Sadness is the only emotion I can describe after watching the verdict in the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse trial. I’m not remotely disappointed in the verdict, as it was I believe, a just end to a too-long crime spree by this monster. The sadness comes in that it could have been stopped so much sooner. It should have been stopped so much sooner. There were opportunities abound for so-called respectable, responsible adults to do the right thing – opportunities they chose not to take for a variety of reasons and none of them acceptable.
The day the indictments were handed down, the Grand Jury report was released and I read every last word. Over the years, I’ve read virtually hundreds of Grand Jury reports. Some I found credible. Some I found incredible. Some were outright works of fiction, but this one, this one spoke so deeply of truth, it took little effort to understand the tragic proportions of what really happened over a 15-year period.
Jerry Sandusky used the power and privilege that came with his position at Penn State to perpetrate these crimes under a cloak of respectability. For too long in this country, we have lionized sports figures and their coaches and this sort of hero-worship has now been shown to be the worst kind of unearned trust with tragic results.
It isn’t like these kids didn’t try to tell someone. They did, and they weren’t believed, just like their perpetrator told them they wouldn’t be believed as he was abusing them. I recoiled listening to Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly, in the post-verdict press conference spend 10 painful, self-aggrandizing minutes, tell the country how, when no one believed these kids, the Attorney General’s office did, the State of Pennsylvania did and the jury did. Lady, when it takes 15 years to bring a child sex predator to trial, I’m thinking a more humble tone might be in order. Had the first child been believed, the facts investigated from the first hint of trouble and just one adult done the right thing, many young men would have been spared this horror. Instead, Sandusky was free to victimize even more kids, so I found Attorney General Kelly’s self-congratulatory treatise just another in a string of insults to the victims.
Mike McQuerry certainly had a chance to stop it. He admitted to witnessing an actual assault in the Penn State showers. Did he stop it? Did he march in, grab that kid, get him dressed and go directly to the police, as he should? No. He went instead to his father, then to head coach, Joe Paterno and then to University officials. Not one of them called the police. No move was made to fire Sandusky and no one notified the Second Mile charity, Sandusky’s breeding ground for victims. And while I’m not prone to speak ill of the dead, I can’t buy JoePa’s excuse that he was so generationally disconnected to the very idea of homosexual sex that he just couldn’t deal with what he had been told. We must all hold him responsible for the young men who were victimized after he knew what had happened in those showers. The University officials who knew and didn’t both fire Sandusky and report it to the authorities should all be fired themselves. They were far more interested in keeping secrets and protecting the reputation of Penn State, the football program and the financial integrity of the school via alumni donations and the civil liability lawsuits that would surely follow. So many people, with sterling reputations and in positions of power failed those kids miserably. While Mike McQuerry may have met the legal definition of reporting responsibility, he failed on a moral level, though of all people involved, he, at least, did something that should have initiated an immediate end to the abuse. It would take seven more years for it all to come to an end. That is our national shame.
Ultimately, the blame can and does lie with the man at the epicenter of this tragedy, Jerry Sandusky himself. I’ll not pretend to understand what forces of the Universe culminate in that sort of sickness, but I do know one thing – he had the opportunity, in the end to do the right thing and simply confess. Such a confession would have spared the victims having to deal with the shame of repeating what happened to them and him from the letting the world learn of the sordid and ugly details of his crimes. We never heard of any plea deal in this case and there’s a simple reason why. Sandusky’s age. Given the scope of the charges, no plea deal could ever have included a chance for him to again see the light of day. He had nothing to lose by going to trial. Instead, Sandusky held out for a hail mary, final whistle pass that his former reputation and the power of Penn State could make a jury believe him. Justice may be blind, but juries are not and Sandusky was ultimately found guilty of 45 of the 48 charges. If Sandusky had accepted the inevitable, as even his own attorney admitted to the “mountain of evidence” against his client, so much of the pain his victims endured by having to testify could have been avoided. That alone convinced me the sonofabitch has no soul and cannot be redeemed in any way.
There are lessons to be learned here, and only time will tell if we’ve learned them. The story made for titillating television and filled the news cycles, but if anyone reading this believes there aren’t other Jerry Sandusky’s out there, you’re fooling yourself. I’m not saying every child tells the truth about sexual abuse, we all know better, but not taking every allegation seriously, no matter the accused, sets a dangerous pattern, giving child sex predators permission to continue. Sandusky was certainly given that pass.
I’ve listened to the talking heads on the box comment how Sandusky’s conviction closes the door on an ugly chapter of child sex abuse. I’m hoping his conviction places a permanent wedge in that door to keep us all vigilant in the protection of children everywhere. As repulsive as it all is, this is the image I hope to have burned into the minds of pedophiles everywhere – Sandusky being led away to prison in handcuffs.
Pedophiles – this could be you. This will be you.