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It must never happen again

Published July 28. 2012 09:01AM

Two of the most revealing events in the Penn State child abuse scandal happened prior to the release of the all-telling Freeh Report, the summary of the independent investigation.

First, the family of late coach Joe Paterno requested to view the report in advance of public distribution, saying they didn't intend to alter the findings, but simply wanted advance notice of the facts.

Obviously, the family was hoping to do damage control. But why would they presume such power and authority over an independent investigation? This kind of abject arrogance is what caused the problem to begin with.

Something else happened on the day of the big Freeh Report announcement. It was an act of censorship.

Students and alumni at State College had gathered in the student center to watch the live telecast. But moments before the 9 a.m. CNN broadcast, the TV channel at Penn State was suddenly switched. All of the monitors were redirected to a state budget report.

It's unclear who authorized the switch. However, common sense prevailed and the CNN broadcast eventually was shown an hour later.

These incidents speak to the culture at a school so maligned that janitors who witnessed sickening child abuse were too scared to report it for fear of losing their jobs, says the report.

It paints a picture of the school's emphasis on football at all costs. "It would have been like going against the president of the United States in my eyes. ... football runs this university," one worker told investigators.

Hundreds of PSU students rioted in the streets after the head coach was fired. They weren't rioting over the senseless abuse of innocent children that took place on their campus. They were rioting over football.

Because football is so powerful, the top four men, from the president on down, turned their backs on child abuse victims and, instead, protected the predator. Why? Because the predator was part of football.

PSU conspired to hide evil, says the report, and because of it, countless additional children were abused - not for 14 hours, or 14 days, or even 14 weeks. For 14 unimaginable years, Penn State knowingly harbored and enabled a serial child predator. Their way of handling it was to essentially tell Jerry Sandusky: "Don't do it here on campus. Rape those kids someplace else." By doing that, PSU allowed Sandusky to major in minors.

Ironically, the plot to hide the dirty secret was a measure intended to protect self-proclaimed ethics when, at that point, the top PSU echelon had no ethics to protect.

Can this sort of thing happen again? Of course it can.

The majority of the PSU board remains intact. They're speaking of moving forward. They're talking about doing "background checks." But as long as a football program runs a university instead of the other way around, priorities will be reversed. Morals will be twisted. Invincible football gods can be created once again.

And so harsh sports sanctions have come into play. Upsetting to many. Penn State is still a great school. But the NCAA thinks it needs a cultural transfusion. It needs leaders who understand that children's welfare is more important than a ballgame, no matter how many bucks football brings to the coffers. The NCAA is asking PSU to prove that the school is more than a football stadium with classrooms attached. And, of course, it is. Penn State is more than a football game.

As for the existing statue of the coach everyone is talking about, here's an idea.

Melt it down and re-cast it in the form of a fatherless young boy with an arm stretched high, reaching out in vain for the absent hand of a grown-up to guide him. The new statue would honor the true heroes of State College - all of the boys, now men, who demonstrated courage by coming forward and telling police and the court how their innocence was destroyed and their lives ravaged.

The new statue would be a symbol of child abuse awareness. It'd provide a cautionary reminder about a time in history when supposedly educated men put a sports contest over the welfare of helpless young boys. Not for 14 days or 14 weeks. But for 14 years.

It must never happen again. And we need to never forget. If we do, we've lost the foundation of all that is decent.

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