It’s not a typical sports story. It’s uncomfortable. It’s ugly.
Some of the testimony was so repulsive, so evil, that it was difficult for the brain to even process it. This partly explains why the masses often lean toward the candy of the sports world. A college football playoff debate. Cheering or mocking of LeBron James. A baseball pennant race. It’s simple. It’s easy to digest. Real-life drama such as the Jerry Sandusky child-molestation case gets pushed aside, even if it’s potentially one of the more impactful sports stories of our generation.
“I really wish ESPN and other national sports outlets would start covering this more,” Tammy Lerner, co-founder of the Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse (FACSA) said Thursday. “So many stories like Sandusky are coming out. Pedophiles are drawn to places with access to kids, like sports. We’re seeing stories about abuse involving Olympic coaches, football players, hockey players, basketball players. But people don’t want to believe the worst. If you believe it, you have to do something about it. It’s easier not to.”
The Sandusky case was given to a jury Thursday. The evidence seemed overwhelming. The defense seemed flailing. Sandusky himself declined to take the stand and speak to 12 jurors directly, even after effectively taking the stand and speaking to them indirectly in a disastrous national TV interview with NBC’s Bob Costas last November. But if you’re wondering what happens next, here’s your simplistic sports analogy: Round 12 just ended and we await the judges’ decision. Feel comfortable?
Sandusky, the former Penn State defensive coordinator, faces 48 counts of child sex abuse. The prosecution called 22 witnesses, including eight males who alleged abuses ranging from kissing and fondling to forced oral and anal sex. They wept on the stand. They gave testimony in agonizing and horrific detail.
In his closing argument, deputy attorney general Joe McGettigan stood near Sandusky and alluded to the alleged victims, saying Sandusky “took pieces of their souls. … Give him the justice he deserves.”
The defense tried to cast Sandusky as a caring man who was just trying to help disadvantaged kids through his “Second Mile” charity. Defense attorney Joe Amendola played the conspiracy-theory card. He fell just short of suggesting there was a second pedophile on the Grassy Knoll. He suggested every witness was wrong in their interpretation of what they saw or heard. He claimed victims were coerced or coached by police or are being guided by financial motives.
Before the defense rested, Amendola even presented something called, “Histrionic Personality Disorder” to explain some of his client’s strange behavior. The paralegal in his office who dug that one up should get a nice bonus.
If a scandal like this can happen at a university and football program such as Penn State, it can happen anywhere. There have been allegations of a years-long coverup. Joe Paterno, the late coach, was forced out. President Graham Spanier and athletic director Tim Curley were fired. Curley and the recently retired vice president, Gary Schultz, face charges of perjury and failing to report suspected child abuse.
And yet, we obsess over LeBron James.
Lerner is a victim of a child molestation. She and at least six others in her family were molested by an uncle. She grew up in central Pennsylvania, has a son at Penn State and her husband is an alum. The family even once had a dog named “JoePa.”
She said she has no doubt of Sandusky’s guilt. But she is concerned that jurors may be swayed by defense arguments.
“They had one [former Penn State] assistant coach [Dick Anderson] who said it wasn’t unusual for coaches to shower with boys,” she said. “But pedophiles groom their victims and manipulate their victims.”
We’ve seen too many strange things happen when a jury goes into deliberations, particularly when a celebrity is the defendant. It’s also troublesome that eight of the 12 jury members have direct or indirect ties to Penn State. One alternate juror who replaced an ill juror Wednesday is an alum and Sandusky spoke at her graduation.
Many in the Penn State community are understandably upset by suggestions that they would protect “one of their own.” But if we believe even a fraction of the allegations against Sandusky are true, it also seems clear he was protected and enabled. It takes only one sympathetic protector to hang a jury.
“I would hope the jurors can put their personal feelings about Penn State aside and just look at the evidence,” Lerner said.
It shouldn’t be too much to ask. Look at the evidence. Don’t look away. These are the stories that really matter.
By Jeff Schultz