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When it Comes to Sandusky Scandal, Will It Never End?

by on April 28, 2014 6:00 AM

I had coffee last week with a friend from my undergraduate days at Penn State.

She was back in Happy Valley to visit her college student daughter.

We reminisced about the "good old days" and how the campus somehow feels so much bigger than it did when we were students. We talked about our kids and our lives in the years since. She shared her sadness about the Sandusky crimes and how difficult it had been to watch our alma mater stumble from across the country. She asked, "what has it been like to be here in the mess of the past two years?"

It sometimes feels like it will never go away.

I have promised myself that I wouldn't further flame the fires, lest I contribute to the continued rehashing of the issue but it's becoming insane. Last week we learned that a group of alumni is raising funds to erect a statue of Joe Paterno that will reportedly be placed on private property in the downtown.

Almost instantaneously after a news article about the planned statue appeared, so did heated and hateful comments from opponents. Within the day, a child advocacy group expressed outrage and said that recognizing coach Paterno with a statue would send a message to victims of sexual abuse that powerful adults won't listen to them and that kids and safety don't matter.

Are they serious?

In a statement to the press, Barbara Dorris of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) in St. Louis denounced the alumni who want to recognize Joe Paterno's 61 years of contribution to this community. Dorris was quoted as saying that Coach Paterno "was part of a school bureaucracy that turned a blind eye to suspicions about Sandusky's crimes."

Somehow from across the country, she is able to determine guilt over innocence, evaluate "facts" about a cover-up that has yet to see the inside of a courtroom and assign blame to people that she has likely never met.

For the record, I think the crimes of Sandusky and others who use the trust and innocence of children to gain power is abhorrent. I spent several years in the early part of my career working with children and adolescents with mental health issue. Abuse was very frequently a precipitant to serious and prolonged emotional and physical issues. As a Roman Catholic, the priest scandals have at times led me to question my faith in the church.

But how will a child who is being victimized know that a person honored in a statue is in any way connected to a sexual abuse case unless someone tells him or her? Further, is it appropriate to share details of these horrific crimes with children, especially since the perpetrator has been convicted, is serving a life sentence and is no longer a threat?

There seem to be many, many people who are using the Sandusky scandal, one way or another, to further their own agendas. This horrible incident has become and continues to be an exercise in picking sides and getting those 15 minutes of fame.

There are the JoePa fans, who through billboards and movies and cries to return the wins and the statue, who refuse to see the man, who throughout his life acknowledged his human failings, as anything other than saintly.

On the other side are the anti-Penn State people who seem to believe the whole campus and particularly the football coach were all in on the secret and that the whole university should be razed.

There is the wife whose deflection of blame and the insistence that her husband is innocent on national television continues to fuel the flames.

There are the groups. Stewardship. Moving forward. Endorsed candidates for the Board of Trustees. Us versus them.

There are the lawsuits and the legislation. Cash settlements for victims when we still don't know what role if any Penn State had in the incidents. A legislative battle to keep the NCAA fine money in Pennsyvania. Demands to open the files on the Freeh report. A suit against the NCAA. A counter suit against Penn State.

It's hard to keep track of it all.

And, finally, there are the on-line commentators. The same names and the same pseudonyms. After two years, I can't imagine what motivates someone to sit for hours at the computer and rebut or rebuke every comment and every opinion that differs from his or her own.

In the end, the young men and their families, whose lives were derailed by a pedophile who pretended to be their friend, go quietly about their business and the effort to heal.

If the proposed statue was of Sandusky I would likely be standing on College Avenue with a sign and a petition myself. However, a statue of Paterno doesn't automatically mean a disregard for the feelings of survivors or that supporters don't care about kids.

Ms. Dorris has inserted herself in this story from across the country without waiting for the facts and in what seems like an attempt to ride the wave of notoriety.

Those of us who live here, know that it is a long way from being over.

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Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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