Jeff Byers: Few Winners Emerge in Wake of Sandusky Verdict
As I listened to the announcement Friday night that the prosecution had won its case, I couldn’t help but feel empty.
While I realize our judicial system is set up so that one side wins while the other loses, and the cheering outside the courthouse would make you think there was a celebration for the victors, in the end it didn’t really feel like a win. I look around, and while I do see winners and true champions, it feels like the many losses have taken an almost insurmountable toll in this case.
Almost insurmountable. But there sure has been a lot lost over the recent months.
Most importantly, of course, is the innocence that the victims lost some time ago. Lives derailed, disrupted and destroyed. Hopefully, over time, they’ll get their lives back, but that innocence that is supposed to go with childhood was long ago vanquished.
Jerry Sandusky, of course, has lost his reputation and his freedom. He’s also lost any chance at sympathy from the overwhelming majority of people in this area and throughout the country.
Penn State has lost its immaculate reputation. The university’s administration and Board of Trustees has lost its trust with the alumni.
People who work with children, I fear, have lost their presumption of good will. Much as some see a Muslim in an airport and think “terrorist” or see an athlete breaking records and think “steroids,” some will see adults working with children and think “abuser.” Some call it a healthy skepticism and perhaps it is, but a lot of genuinely good people doing genuinely good work will have a shadow of doubt cast over them.
The Sandusky family has lost its father and its own sense of security. There is pain there that few of us can imagine. Their world has been turned upside down
Joe Paterno has lost his life and his previously unquestioned position as a pillar of all that is right in college athletics. The degree to which his reputation has been sullied is, of course, widely debated. While many would say he did what was required and the blame lies largely elsewhere, few would say his actions in this instance were heroic.
Many in the media have lost their credibility. When the author of a book on the Penn State scandal says on a national radio show that “fans sent Mike McQueary death threats because they blamed him for bringing down Joe Paterno” or another legal expert goes on national television and explains “they wanted to get the trial over with before football season,” we have some serious problems.
While I’m not justifying the threats to McQueary, they were clearly made by people who were upset he didn’t take physical or legal action the night he witnessed the abuse. And I’m pretty sure nobody in this area was persuading Judge John Cleland on what his timetable would be in this trial. There are many other examples of so-called reporters simply missing the mark widely, and they did the entire profession a very real disservice.
There are many, many others who lost in this whole equation, but perhaps there were some winners, too.
To be sure, the case and the attention it has received should serve as a deterrent to future child abuse and should give strength to children that if they are truly suffering abuse, they should seek help and can receive justice.
While this area’s reputation has certainly taken a significant hit, the jury may have helped us in beginning to repair that reputation nationally. This is a jury of Centre County residents - you may have heard that many of them had ties to Penn State University (insert gasp here) - and yet, they seemed to carefully weigh through all of the evidence and make a sound judgment on each of the 48 counts for which they were obligated to make a ruling. Some in the media will be shocked to learn that it appears not everyone in the area was involved in the cover-up.
Perhaps justice did prevail, but it was decades in the making. Too many people along the way prevented justice from occurring earlier - among them, Ray Gricar, Mike McQueary, Joe Paterno, Tim Curley, Gary Schultz, Graham Spanier and most certainly, Tom Corbett. That list is undoubtedly longer - perhaps much longer - and hopefully someday soon, the blame will be properly ascribed to those most deserving. Regardless, all of the individuals involved lost an opportunity to be a true hero by simply asking for authorities to seek the truth in the matter.
Here’s hoping that we as a society, as a university and a local community, can come up with a winning formula moving forward. A healthy skepticism and awareness, a true yearning for transparency and accountability from those in positions of power but also a trust in good people to do good things as they have for so long in this area.
While we have lost our innocence, I’m hoping we can somehow win it back for our future generations because children deserve that.
- Jeff Byers: The Healing Power of Sports - June 12, 2012
- Jeff Byers: Hoping Less is More - May 29, 2012