As bad as last week was, this one will be worse.
All the stories we heard of how former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky befriended young boys, made them aware of his vast power in the State College and then, when they were acutely aware of their own powerlessness, preyed upon them sexually were, one can only hope, among the worst things you’ve ever heard. So damning, they’re not worth repeating. (Though maybe you missed the final witness called by the prosecution Monday, who tells of her son’s missing underwear and inability to “use the bathroom right.”)
This week, as a veteran but hilariously over matched defense attorney attempts to wiggle and writhe and obfuscate a way out, will be worse.
Already we’ve got a new phrase being whisked around: histrionic personality disorder. This, Joe Amendola and the rest of the team charged with proving Sandusky’s innocence say, is what caused their client to write what one of the alleged victims called “creepy love letters.” My admittedly rudimentary study of the disorder reveals that it equates to being overly dramatic. And while it is often tied to sex and/or love – in that people who suffer from it can act overly seductive, or have wild swings of emotion when dealing with those close to them – there is no clear link to raping children in the manner that Sandusky’s accusers described. In fact, trapping teen-aged boys in private places – as Sandusky allegedly did in various showers and his own basement – runs directly counter to many symptoms of a disorder characterized by trying to draw attention to oneself.
This defense is, as the New York Daily News’ Dick Weiss described it, a final Hail Mary.
But Weiss also writes this: “Sandusky wore a halo during most of his 30-year career as an assistant coach and was canonized as the founder of the Second Mile charity that supposedly benefited troubled youth.”
Weiss goes on to say that this trial should have never made it to trial, that Sandusky should have just slunked off somewhere to serve his time. If only we’d been that lucky.
At least now the discussion of Sandusky and those who may have known or may have even protected him will intensify. That could help.
Because the same culture that gave Sandusky the halo and allowed him to wear it through numerous signals that something was not right – and could indeed be terribly wrong – still exists. And within it, maybe Jerry Sandusky believes that he can be set free. Within the warped world that enabled all of this to happen, why wouldn’t he feel as though it was simply another defensive stand that must be – and inevitably would be – made?
I’ve harped on this idea before, but the extent to which much of this catches so many people off guard is disconcerting. We’ve long known that big-time college sports teams morphed into their own mini-corporations, beholden mostly to their own success and growth. Penn State football happened to be covered in gloss, put there by a compliant media and town that capitalized on its success.
My first year at Penn State was Sandusky’s first year focusing on his charity work. So I never covered him, per se. But the football players and coaches I did cover over four years remained strangers to me, and probably to most of the robust media corps. Maybe this is a sign of poor reporting on my part. Maybe it’s the necessary adaptation of a football program to a 24/7 news cycle. Coaches have jobs to do, and reporters might be seen as distractions.
But even while acknowledging how competitive Big Ten football is, the secrecy always seemed to go too far. In the end, it’s just football. People follow because it’s a happy distraction. At Penn State, it was a glamorous distraction imbued by Joe Paterno with heroic meaning. What was there to hide?
Is this the lament of a reporter who couldn’t crack the door, get inside? Sure. Oddly, many readers have and will side with Penn State on this. They see the media prying as nefarious, I guess, and unsavory.
And while it’s preposterous to promise that better access for reporters would have stopped Sandusky, it’s equally absurd to say it would have had no impact. An open culture where unbiased outsiders could have seen players and coaches interacting in real-time would have fostered an atmosphere of accountability, at least to some degree. Instead we were left to cover the façade, and to repeat empty clichés uttered by linebackers who knew Sandusky as a guy who could coach them up and get them a shot in the NFL.
Former Nittany Lion LaVar Arrington wrote about his ignorance of the pain felt by one alleged victim in a chilling piece for the Washington Post. And though his suffering comes nowhere close to that of the boys who were molested, Arrington is another victim of a system that let so many people down. Whether you want to point the finger at former university president Graham Spanier or former athletic director Tim Curley or former senior vice president Gary Schultz – who, with Spanier, apparently decided it would be more “humane” to Sandusky to not tell police about an alleged incident in the showers of the football building – or at Paterno or at any number of other adults who stood by, there is too much blame to go around. And, as I said, some of it belongs with us. The Patriot-News' Sara Ganim deservedly won a Pulitizer for finally getting so many details about this case into the open; but one can only wonder what would have happened had there been more attention paid to some of these issues earlier, if instead of regurgitating platitudes from sophomores or raving about the next five-star QB somebody had really fought to infiltrate an insular culture at Penn State.
This week, a man who allegedly (journalistic decorum demands that I continue typing that word) perpetrated so much evil by using Penn State’s good name as a shield and its near-military code of loyalty as a cloak will thrash meekly against what everyone now knows about him. Actually, Sandusky himself may end up not testifying (Amendola had hinted that he would; now it appears the trial may end by Thursday, seemingly leaving too small of a window for Sandusky to be cross-examined) and will simply have his lawyers do the work for him. They’ll try to discredit the alleged victims, paint them as gold diggers. They could also bring respected civilians to the stand – relatives of Paterno, maybe – and get them to say how kind Jerry had been to so many kids for so long, and how important he’d been to Penn State. They’ll try to pull us all back into that bubble – that’s their job, of course – where none of this seemed possible, where Sandusky was a guy who’d worked for Paterno, was a guy who loved kids, was a cog in a great Penn State/Second Mile machine doling out tickets down a righteous path, a machine above reproach, a machine too busy to answer your questions anyway.
This week will be worse, hearing that machine sputter out, hearing Sandusky – through his lawyers – pitifully exclaiming his innocence to those of us dazed and sorry for being duped for too long.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times