Unpacking Penn State fallout

November 11, 2011

Produced by Eight Forty-Eight

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(AP/file)
Longtime Penn State head coach Joe Paterno was fired amid allegations surrounding his former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

College football is no stranger to scandal but the situation at Penn State University involving allegations related to the sexual abuse of minors has criminal implications.

Former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was charged on Nov. 5 with 40 counts related to the sexual abuse of minors.

Eight Forty-Eight discussed the evolving claims with regular sports contributor Cheryl Raye-Stout and espn.com senior writer Lester Munson.

Raye-Stout spoke with Penn State alums and current Chicago Bears players Anthony Adams and Robbie Gould about the allegations and about playing for coach Paterno.

“I think the biggest part is it made you become a better man,” Bears kicker Robbie Gould began. “Obviously being on time for things, making sure that you’re responsible for doing whatever homework or assignments or projects or helping your teammates out; being held accountable for things that you do, obviously is something that we all learned from him. Obviously we became better people and better athletes by attending Penn State and that’s why you go there,” Gould added.

Gould’s teammate Adams’ expressed shock by the details in the grand jury’s report.

“You can’t make sense out of this stuff. I mean, 23-page, you know, that report… it’s hard to read that,” Adams tried to explain.

Raye-Stout told Eight Forty-Eight's Alison Cuddy that players’ reactions changed throughout the week—at first, she said, Adams thought it was just “allegations and innuendos” but after he read the indictment, the allegations took on a new shape and he became quite distraught.

The Big Ten powerhouse continued to crumble throughout the week. Head coach Joe Paterno was fired Wednesday for failing to do more to stop Sandusky.

Munson reported that there were three investigations underway: One by Pennsylvania’s Attorney General, Linda Kelly, who filed the criminal charges against Sandusky; a second by the Department of Education, which is led by Secretary Arne Duncan, who Munson said was “outraged” by what he had learned about Penn State and the coaching staff; and a third investigation by the University’s Board of Trustees.

The Trustees have been under considerable pressure from the Governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Corbett, who began the investigation more than two years ago while serving as the state’s attorney general. 

Both Munson and Raye-Stout said that they had never seen anything like this in years of covering sports. In his 22 years reporting on scandals and legal issues in sports, Munson said there have been times when, as a journalist, there was some satisfaction and happiness in covering a scandal—but that this was no such an occasion and referred to the reports of the alleged abuse thus far as, “disgusting, repulsive and abhorrent.”

Unfortunately, Munson added, he was afraid there could be more abuse allegations to come.

As to whether the NCAA might pursue the matter, Munson said it has no jurisdiction. But, he expected that Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany would exercise his authority in some way. In a statement, Delany offered sympathy for the alleged victims and their families and added that there would be no comment or conclusions drawn until the grand jury and the university’s Board of Trustees’ Special Committee finished their respective investigations of the circumstances that gave rise to the grand jury report.

The elephant in the room, Raye-Stout explained, was the fact that college sports remained a multi-billion dollar industry which creates power and desire to cover up any malfeasance so sports can continue to profit.

Munson wrote a column Friday in response to the fallout wherein he suggested that for Penn State to recover, it should cancel football for the next two years and start over. He echoed Raye-Stout’s point and said that the money involved in college sports skews everything, adding that it distorts the balance between academics and sports and is the root cause for the many bizarre things that happen in college sports. Munson noted that his employer, ESPN, pays billions of dollars for college sports making the media giant a part of the problem as well.

As additional alleged victims come forward, they will be debriefed by Pennsylvania authorities.

“We must also watch,” Munson said, “as Sandusky prepares his defense—is he going to dig in and defend this or is he going to plead guilty and take his punishment and make a bargain with the prosecutors? All of this, we have, on the horizon,” Munson finished.