Not-so-Happy Valley

Penn State was the NCAA’s model program–until it came out that the administration, including revered Coach Joe Paterno, didn’t protect children from a sexual predator.

By: Kevin Buckles Jr., Sports Editor

In State College, PA, Joseph Vincent Paterno is seen as an immortal, tangible figure. Through the same lens—which is shared by the NCAA—Gerald Arthur “Jerry” Sandusky’s 26 known victims of child molestation are seen as transparent, irrelevant castaways.

How dare those people come forward and forever taint the historic, squeaky-clean legacy of Penn State (PSU) football? How dare those people force the NCAA’s hand in placing a four-year postseason ban on the poor, innocent college football players who are still receiving a free education? How dare the media over-blow concrete evidence of Joe Paterno being fully aware of Jerry Sandusky molesting and raping young boys in the football facilities in 1998 and dismiss it? How dare they, right? Wrong.

The NCAA has received a very fair amount of criticism over the past decade or so over the way they have handled scandals that have arisen involving different players and programs: Reggie Bush/USC, Ohio State/Jim Tressel, Dez Bryant, University of Miami, etc. But none of those instances take the cake like the one that occurred two months ago.

On September 8, 2014, media outlets were on fire from the bomb that TMZ Sports dropped; footage of Ray Rice throwing a violent hook at his girlfriend—now wife—inside of an Atlantic City elevator had surfaced. From ESPN’s SportsCenter to ABC’s The View, everyone was talking about it.

What no one was talking about, however, was how on the same day, in an extremely sly, sneaky, surreptitious manner, the NCAA decided to lift the steep sanctions they  had placed on the Penn State football program two years prior.

Why do this all of a sudden?

According to Penn State’s athletic integrity monitor and former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell’s second annual report to the NCAA Executive Committee since 2012, the school had been “compliant” with the consent decree that was placed on them. Mitchell also went on to say that the school had made progress toward enforcing and implementing a new human resources system, “fostering an ethical culture,” and improving security at its sports facilities, according to CBS News.

“Penn State has made remarkable progress over the past year,” said South Carolina University President Harris Pastides, a member of the NCAA’s board of directors, according to ESPN. “The board members and I believe the executive committee’s decision is the right one. It allows both the university and the association to continue to move toward a common goal of ensuring that educating, nurturing and protecting young people is a top priority.”

The NCAA, along with George Mitchell, felt like a sub-two-year period was enough time for a school, football program, and community to completely shift their culture? Enough to cut the original length of the punishment in half?

How is that possible in such a short period of time?

“Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing, and protecting young people,” said an adamant Mark Emmert, the NCAA President, in 2012 when he first publicly declared the sanctions that were being placed on Penn State.

As Emmert alluded to in that statement, football is, always has been, and always will be placed ahead of everything in State College—a city with a population of just 41,757 people. That ‘football first’ mindset and culture is instilled in that area, and not even a scandal as big as child molestation could sway them into vocally favoring the victims over what was an incredibly corrupt football program.

This was disturbingly more evident than ever in Amir Bar-Lev’s documentary “Happy Valley,” that premieres Nov. 19, which chronicles the year and a half following Sandusky being arrested on sex abuse charges through the eyes of several objective—and very subjective—Penn State enthusiasts.

In the film, Bar-Lev was able to capture pro-Paterno/anti-media Penn State fans from near and far who held rallies and protests which included the violent, chaotic, riot that everyone remembers in late 2011 — the night Joe Paterno was fired. Little to no real sympathy for the victims was displayed then, but the outpouring and rage for beloved ‘Joe-Pa’ for losing his job was rampant.

This is a culture issue that cannot be solved in 24 months, no matter how many “improvements” are made or how far they were “heading in the right direction.”

For example, there are those like Tyler Estright, a class of 2013 Penn State graduate who was featured in the film who complained that “the media should’ve focused more on the perpetrator,” and that “Happy Valley doesn’t exist anymore.”

It is amazing that people a part of that delusional culture with Penn State Nittany Lion footballs for brains can find it within them to blame the media for reporting on arguably the biggest collegiate scandal in American history.

Who cares about the “Happy Valley” mystique when more than two dozen children were being sexually abused on campus by a beloved figure, resulting in administration quickly attempting to cover up.

Yes, Sandusky is the central villain in this fiasco, but those who assisted the the cover-up—including PSU former Athletic Director Tim Curley, former PSU Vice President of business and finance Gary Schultz, former PSU President Graham Spanier, and Paterno—are just as guilty.

The film also features Matt Sandusky’s story, Jerry’s adopted son, and how his relationship with Jerry began amazing; he would take Matt to football games, practices, give him brand new PSU gear to wear, along with essentially saving Matt from a broken home with his biological family. But it all came at a significant price; Matt too was sexually abused by Jerry.

“Ninety percent of the time that I spent with [Jerry] was everything you’d want,” said Matt Sandusky during an interview in the film. “But that 10 percent just destroyed [me].”

Matt also explained how he felt compelled to testify against his adopted father after hearing so many grueling similar stories of abuse by victims who had taken the stand to testify during Jerry’s trial. Since he testified however, Matt said he has been completely shut out by the rest of the Sandusky family. They have not once tried to see him, speak to him, or contact him in any form.

Matt has become no more than a transparent, irrelevant castaway to the Sandusky family.

To add fuel to the fire, Bar-Lev added in his Q&A session after the screening of his movie that Matt Sandusky’s status in the entire town near State College is very low. And according to Bar-Lev, Matt’s religious preacher has even refused to minister to him and his family of five, though the same preacher visits Jerry in jail once a week to minister to him.

Absolutely unreal.

This is why this scandal goes far beyond the football program. It is a mentality that those surrounding the program possess. Anything college football-related in State College, PA is untouchable and is a direct reason why PSU suffered heavy consequences — and why it was even more egregious by the NCAA to lift those consequences.

They essentially just put the program in ‘timeout’ for two years before letting them off of the hook for no real reason.

The late Joe Paterno, along with everyone else involved in the cover-up, got what they deserved as far as punishments. They all deserve to have their name tarnished and it is their fault that people now tend to turn their noses up at the mere mention of Penn State. Had Paterno & Co. just done the simple, moral task of going to the police to rid themselves and the program of Jerry Sandusky’s abominable figure when they had the opportunity to over a decade ago, Happy Valley would still be a happy, satisfying place to enjoy college football. But now, it will always be a has-been with a dark cloud still circling over it—despite the NCAA’s random, desperate efforts to revive the program.

Joe Paterno Jr. shared an interesting tidbit in an interview near the end of “Happy Valley” regarding how he deals with the criticisms that his father receives since the PSU debacle; it is a strikingly similar sentiment to what most PSU devotees probably feel about Joe Paterno Sr.’s involvement in the cover-up, as well as what the program heads may have felt about the Sandusky abuse accusations over a decade ago.

“If I don’t hear it or see it, it doesn’t exist,” said Paterno Jr. “That’s denial, but so what, it’s for me.”

Like father, like son.

 

 

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