STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Only a few hours after a raucous downtown protest following the firing of Joe Paterno, the Penn State campus took on a funereal feel Thursday, with students struggling to come to grips with the magnitude of a sexual abuse scandal that has shaken this college town to its core.
On Wednesday, Paterno said he would resign at the end of the season in the wake of the charges against a former top assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, which had already led two top university officials to step down. But at a meeting later that night, the board of trustees decided that Paterno would be removed immediately. The board also fired Graham B. Spanier, who had been Penn State’s president since 1995.
Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator, has been charged with sexually abusing eight boys over a 15-year span. Neither Paterno nor Spanier was charged in the case, but questions have been raised about whether they did as much as they could to stop the suspected assaults.
As I said on Wednesday, the idea that the head football coach, the head of the Athletic Department, and the university president all knew, but no one else did, is absurd and misunderstands the nature of university bureaucracy.
Nothing makes it to the president's office or desk without the chain of command below, the Deans, Vice-Presidents, Provosts, and other pencil pushers who run universities, not knowing. Ditto any athletic department. The idea that the AD knew, but none of the other assistant AD's, assistant coaches, trainers, secretaries, etc. knew, is equally outrageous.
What you're looking at is a massive criminal enterprise of aiding and abetting, conspiracy and collusion, and for most people, it will be a shocking revelation (it will be even more shocking if it turns out Sandusky was "pimping out" boys to wealthy athletic department and university donors).
But you shouldn't be too shocked. As I wrote on Wednesday, vile behaviors (criminal or otherwise) are routinely disappeared in the massive ATM of college athletics and administration. Threaten the machine and they will deal with you the same way they dealt with these 10 year old kids (more on the legal case and the list of victims and crimes here).
As the one victim's lawyer notes, the student reaction the night "JoePa" and Spanier were sacked, could effect the case and serve as deterrent for some of the victims coming forward.
After top Penn State officials announced that they had fired Joe Paterno on Wednesday night, thousands of students stormed the downtown area to display their anger and frustration, chanting the former coach’s name, tearing down light poles and overturning a television news van parked along College Avenue.
Demonstrators tore down two lampposts, one falling into a crowd. They also threw rocks and fireworks at the police, who responded with pepper spray. The crowd undulated like an accordion, with the students crowding the police and the officers pushing them back.
“We got rowdy, and we got Maced,” said Jeff Heim, 19, rubbing his red, teary eyes. “But make no mistake, the board started this riot by firing our coach. They tarnished a legend.”
Paul Howard, 24, an aerospace engineering student, jeered the police.
“Of course we’re going to riot,” he said. “What do they expect when they tell us at 10 o’clock that they fired our football coach?”
Imagine what they'd do to the victims if they came forward to testify. After all, 10 year olds being anally raped is nothing in comparison to GranPa's "legend," right?
Luckily more sane voices could be heard yesterday and today around PSU, as students mobilized to support the victims of PSU's administration and staff.
From here, both the criminal justice and civil justice systems will clank into motion. The stooges in PSU's Legal Affairs department (whose mission, remember, is to protect the university at all cost) will begin mobilizing to start the slow process of discrediting the victims, blaming everything on Sandusky, and settling the cases to make them go away.
Sidebar: if it can be shown that anyone in their legal department knew, those persons should fired, disbarred and arrested as well.
Beyond the multimillion dollar civil suits (let's hope all actors are sued individually as well as in their capacity as) will be the criminal charges and trial. Right now only Sandusky (who, incredibly, was still working out on campus this past week), has been arrested, but the criminal investigation could widen, as well it should.
Quite frankly, firing and civil justice is too simple. Anyone involved in a coverup should be arrested, charged (see above for a brief list of potential criminal charges) and prosecuted.
The president, vice-presidents, deans, athletic directors and coaches, all sitting in the docks on trial, would send a very important message: athletics and academics do not exist in a vacuum, and higher education is not above the law.
The horrendous nature of the crimes committed, and the environment in which it was allowed and encouraged to continue, demands nothing less.
UPDATE: In this morning's NYT, a good look at the cozy relationship between campus law enforcement agencies, athletic departments and administrators. This goes to my point above and from earlier in the week: crimes and egregious behaviors involving athletics on campus are routinely disappeared by university administrators and their patsies in campus police departments.