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Bruce Heim: Shedding Light on the Second Mile's Decision Making

by on October 07, 2015 10:30 AM

Recently my involvement with the Second Mile has again come into question.

In response to complaints raised by a small but vocal group, Penn State rescinded an invitation for me to participate in a pre-game military appreciation ceremony at the Penn State-Army game because of fear that some alumni are offended by my association with the Second Mile.

I was nominated and selected to participate in these pre-game events to represent the Vietnam era West Pointer. It was intended to be a tribute to the men and women with whom I served, not me personally. As a local businessman and Penn State alumnus, it was an honor to be asked to represent my fellow West Point graduates and military veterans who proudly served our country.

When the calls came to rescind the invitation, I believe that it dishonored not only the group that I was invited to represent, but dishonored me personally. The implication was that I was under a shadow of suspicion and had done something wrong. This was hard for me to explain to my grandchildren.

To those who still believe that the Second Mile as an organization, its employees, or affiliates including myself had some culpability in the Sandusky scandal based on conjecture, I hope to shed some light and context on the decisions that were made over a decade ago, at least as it relates to me and my role with these events.

These insights begin with one simple truism: Nobody that I know had any inkling that Jerry might be a pedophile.

It never occurred as a possibility until the release of the 2011 Grand Jury presentment that shocked a nation, destroyed a great charity, devastated a town, impugned a university, and by implication its wide alumni base, and maligned a personal friend, partner, and icon who did everything he was supposed to do with the information he had: Joe Paterno.

In the five years when I worked out at the Penn State football facility with some of the football staff (back in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s), I personally saw Jerry maybe two or three times in the shower with younger kids. He wasn’t alone with a child; it was the middle of the day and there were dozens of other people in the gym and locker room area.

It is important to note that in my generation, especially for athletes, taking showers in an open locker room with no privacy after exercising or participating in a sport was standard and normal behavior, regardless of age. It was not uncommon to see grown men with younger children together in a group shower. We grew up with it and, to a far lesser extent with changing societal norms, it continues today in gyms and health clubs all over the country.

At the time I worked out in the Penn State facilities, it just never occurred to me or others who saw him that Jerry may have been using what was a routine part of athletics and sport culture to groom young boys for inappropriate behavior.

In 2001, Penn State officials informed the Second Mile that Sandusky had been seen in the football shower with a child. When specifically asked if there was any act or event that would suggest inappropriate behavior, the Second Mile staff was told NO. When Second Mile Executive Director Jack Raykovitz came to me with this information seeking counsel, I advised him (as did others on the executive committee) that there was no need to bring it to the entire board. If anything, we thought it odd that this was even reported to us if there was no witnessed misconduct or even allegations of misconduct. However, as norms change, it was understandable that Penn State wanted the activity to stop. At the time, The Second Mile had no knowledge of the 1998 incident, which was not reported to us.

Contrary to the conspiracy theorists, nobody at the Second Mile knew anything about Jerry doing anything other than wonderful things with and for at-risk kids until 2008. Upon receipt of the 2008 report [when Sandusky informed the board he was under investigation], it was immediately taken to the board of The Second Mile for action, which in turn banned Jerry from all kid-related activities.

Nonetheless, even at that time it was hard to believe for many in this community that Jerry would have done anything wrong. In 30 years of working with disadvantaged and at-risk children, to our knowledge Jerry had not had a single allegation of even the slightest inappropriate behavior toward children. Not knowing details, we believed that the 2008 incident was a misunderstanding. Not knowing what we now know about grooming behaviors and the warning signs of pedophilia, at the time it was unfathomable to think that he would actually harm a child.

It is difficult to find words to describe the horror we felt when the 2011 presentment was revealed.

I know the Second Mile and its employees did nothing wrong as do the numerous investigative bodies who spent years looking for evidence of misconduct in the organization related to Jerry Sandusky’s crimes and found none. I have personally been interviewed at length by those organizations and testified in front of the Grand Jury for over two hours.

With the benefit of hindsight, who wouldn’t question if we could have done more or done things differently? Sadly, we do not now have that choice.

I am still saddened that Joe Paterno did not live to see resolution and I stand in firm support of his family and the actions they are taking to defend and restore his good name. The glaring rush to judgment and the circumventing of Joe Paterno’s due process rights continue to haunt the university, my Alma Mater.

Joe Paterno did everything right as outlined under the new reporting policies that Penn State established after this incident. Despite that, the media and the public excoriated him. In a very small way, and I am certainly not comparing the severity of the two, the process of events of this past week is analogous to what the Paterno family endured at the hands of the administration: a reactionary decision with a lack of due process casting suspicion over those who did nothing wrong.

I believe that the last chapter of this saga has yet to be written.

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Editor's Note: This is an opinion editorial submitted to StateCollege.com by Bruce Heim.



Bruce Heim is a local businessman and former board member of The Second Mile.
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