The Last Mile: Penn State Football Program Should be Indefinitely Suspended - Higher Education

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The Last Mile: Penn State Football Program Should be Indefinitely Suspended

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Joe Paterno has been fired. Penn State President Graham Spanier is stepping down. The Department of Education has launched an investigation.

When 84-year-old Paterno heard the news of his firing, he held court one last time. According to The Associated Press, JoePa told a group of adoring students outside his “Happy Valley” home to “pray a little bit for those victims.” 

“Right now, I’m not the football coach, and that’s something I have to get used to,” he said.

But he is the winningest football coach in Division I football history, with 409 wins, a distinction previously held since 1985 by Grambling State University’s iconic Coach Eddie Robinson. Ironically, the three-year criminal investigation, and resulting criminal charges, were not made public until exactly six days after Paterno, on October 29th, topped Coach Rob’s 408 career wins.

Coincidence?

It is only fitting that the Penn State officials who enabled the alleged crimes have been ousted. The administrative shake-up is only the beginning of the swamp-cleaning the disgraceful sexual assault case at Pennsylvania State University (PSU) demands. After reading the grand jury report detailing all manner of alleged sexual intercourse with adolescent boys – and the subsequent cover-up at Penn State University – dating as far back as 1998 – it is clear that unprecedented punitive measures must take place, both criminal and civil.

First and foremost, the Justice Department must launch an investigation into all law enforcement agencies that supposedly investigated the report of the mother who called university police – in 1998 – complaining that her son had come home with wet hair, after showering alone with then Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

In sworn testimony before the grand jury, Penn State Detective Ronald Schreffler “testified that he and State College Police Department Detective Ralph Ralston, with the consent of the mother of victim six, eavesdropped on two conversations the mother of victim six had with Sandusky on May 13, 1998, and May 19, 1998.”

Sandusky admitted that he showered alone with the boy, touched him inappropriately, and said the following, after the mother told him to stay away from her son: “I understand. I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won’t get it from you. I wish I were dead.”

What happened after the law enforcement agents heard this admission of deviant sexual behavior with an 11-year-old boy? 

Nothing. 

There was a “lengthy investigation,” resulting in a “lengthy police report,” but the then – Centre County District Attorney, Ray Gricar, opted to bring no criminal charges, and according to Detective Shreffler, “he was told to close the investigation by the director of campus police, Thomas Harmon.” 

Based on these facts, all officers of the law – and university officials – who were party to this cover-up must be punished to the full extent of the law.

Next, a thorough investigation must be conducted at The Second Mile, the charitable foundation – initially a group foster home – set up by Sandusky in 1977, just a few years after his coaching career began at Penn State, ostensibly to help at-risk boys. The grand jury report points out that it also gave Sandusky “access to hundreds of boys, many of whom were vulnerable due to their social situations.”

According to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, “The Second Mile said it immediately ended Mr. Sandusky’s contact with children in the program after he told them in 2008 he was under investigation for alleged sexual contact with a child, an allegation he told the organization was false.”

And if the Huffington Post‘s jaw-dropping report, “Jerry Sandusky Rumored to Have ‘Pimped’ Boys to Donors” proves true, the Second Mile should be shut down and everyone there who was privy to information about the allegations of Sandusky’s pedophilia must be removed…and prosecuted. Any and all involved donors also must face criminal charges.

Furthermore, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) must spring into action. Granted, since this story first broke last weekend – during Penn State’s bye week – it has been fast-developing, with many moving parts. Still, the NCAA has been conspicuously silent.

As the sanctioning body of American college athletics, the NCAA must investigate the Penn State football program.  Already, based on what has been established in the grand jury investigation, it seems to me, there exists enough evidence to hand down a “death sentence,” effective immediately.  Meaning, the remainder of Penn State’s 2011 football season, including any bowl appearances, should be cancelled. 

And the forfeiture of games won during, at the very least, the three-year investigation should not be ruled out. The most recent application of this harsh penalty was against the University of Southern California in the case of improper gifts given to Heisman Trophy-winning running back Reggie Bush.

USC was stripped of all victories in games Reggie Bush played in during the 2004 season, during which USC won the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) national championship, as well as all wins in 2005, when they lost to Texas in the BCS championship game. Ultimately, Bush forfeited the 2005 Heisman Trophy in 2010.

The so-called “death penalty” in collegiate athletics is rare, having happened only once in NCAA football history, when Southern Methodist’s 1987 and 1988 seasons were cancelled because of recruiting violations. Additionally, they lost dozens of scholarships, placed on probation for five years, and banned from television and bowl appearances for several years.

To be sure, it is a crippling blow to an athletic program, but if it is appropriate for mere recruiting violations and/or academic fraud, then it is the obvious next step in the criminal case of eyewitness accounts of pre-pubescent boys being anally sodomized and/or orally copulated in the showers of the Penn State football locker rooms, by the man who was then the heir apparent to Joe Paterno’s head coaching slot. Clearly the PSU program is totally out of control, and has been for well over a decade.

Indeed, the death penalty is really inadequate for what appears to the worst cover-up and criminal conspiracy in the history of college athletics. And who can deny that Penn State has conspired to protect their vaunted football powerhouse, the proverbial golden egg – even if it meant protecting a man, Coach Jerry Sandusky, known to have a predilection for sodomizing young boys.

Moreover, is it mere coincidence that Sandusky abruptly retired in 1999 – at the youthful age of 55 – shortly after the District Attorney’s investigation in 1998…and after an alleged meeting referenced in the grand jury report?

“Victim four remembers Sandusky being emotionally upset after having a meeting with Joe Paterno in which Paterno told Sandusky he would not be the next head coach at Penn State and which preceded Sandusky’s retirement.  Sandusky told victim four not to tell anyone about the meeting. That meeting occurred in May, 1999.”

Yet, Paterno would have us believe that he did not know the extent of Sandusky’s monstrous behavior. I mean, are we really supposed to believe that JoePa, the most powerful man at Penn State, knew nothing of the 1998 criminal investigation? 

And speaking of which, it is worth noting that District Attorney Gricar – and everything on his work computer – disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 2005, never to be heard from again.  His laptop, sans hard drive, was subsequently found.  He has since been added to the Justice Department’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons System in 2009…and declared legally dead in July of 2011.

According to AOL News, “Roughly two months after Gricar’s laptop was recovered, a woman walking along the banks of the [Susquehanna] river discovered the hard drive. It was near a railroad bridge, about half a mile from the parking lot where Gricar’s Mini Cooper was recovered. Unfortunately for investigators, the hard drive was so severely damaged that they were unable to retrieve any information from it. Whatever clues the laptop might have held were long since destroyed.”

Not to suggest that Gricar’s disappearance is related to the Penn State case; rather, it is an interesting connection…that should be ruled out in the Justice Department investigation, no? 

Nonetheless, thanks to an insistent mother, this case remained active and, thanks to her and the newly elected District Attorney, Linda Kelly, no more boys will suffer at the hands of Jerry Sandusky. Hopefully.

Dr. Pamela D. Reed is a cultural critic, public speaker and associate professor of Africana literature at Virginia State University. Her book, Black POTUS: From The Ideal To The Real: Collected Essays On Barack Obama, Race And American Culture, is forthcoming this fall.

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