At a town hall meeting for Penn State alumni, University President Rodney Erikson was there to provide comfort. After all, the University community's still healing from the horrifying accusations that longtime assistant coach Jerry Sandusky sexually abused several boys over the course of many years while the University turned a blind eye to his actions. So what was the number one topic of discussion at the alumni meeting? Football! And being mad about it!
After everyone recoiled in horror at the charges filed against Jerry Sandusky last fall, attention turned to longtime Nitany Lions Head Football Coach Joe Paterno. A member of the coaching staff who witnessed Sandusky raping a boy in the team showers reported what he'd seen to Paterno, and Paterno told his boss (all involved have since left the University, be it by firing or retirement). His boss conferred with the guy who had witnessed the assault and ultimately everyone decided that maybe Jerry Sandusky shouldn't be allowed to hang out with kids on Penn State's campus anymore. If he wanted to rape some kids, he should do it off of school property. Totally reasonable response to kidrape. Let's not get the police involved. You know how they get.
Erikson, who wasn't personally involved in the Sandusky cover up, has been tootling around the Northeast on what can best be described as The Everybody Yell At Me Tour of 2012. He's speaking to groups of alumni at town hall-style meetings in an attempt to help repair the University's image in the wake of the scandal. Often, the alumni are hostile. Yesterday, they really wanted to know if Erikson planned on trying to move past all this by issuing an apology— not to the children who were assaulted, but to fired Head Coach Joe Paterno.
He's been treated so unfairly, reasoned one attendee from the class of 1962 (Joe Paterno, duh. Not an actual victim). Other town hall meeting attendees asked the University President if he could somehow get the Board of Directors of the University (the body responsible for Paterno's firing) to resign (the President reports to the Board, so, no). While a few alumni in attendance were mystified by the obsessive focus on Paterno, the majority of the discussion in the meeting was devoted to the poor old guy who got fired when he didn't tell the police that kids were getting raped.
Erikson tried to assuage the attendees by distancing the University from the scandal, telling the group,
It grieves me very much when I hear people say `the Penn State scandal.' This is not Penn State. This is `the Sandusky scanda. We're not going to let what one individual did destroy the reputation of this university.
Oh, Christ. The scandal involved several high level university officials protecting a child abuser because he was important to the football program. How is that not a scandal involving, uh, the University?
It's hard to tell who came out of last night's tone deaf cacophony looking worse— the alumni who think an apology to Joe Paterno is what needs to come out of this child sex abuse scandal or the University President who insists that only Jerry Sandusky is involved in a series of incidents that clearly involved Sandusky plus a bunch of other people, all of whom worked for the University.
Every time someone who claims to speak for the University fails to acknowledge the role of its willful ignorance in enabling the extracurricular activities of Jerry Sandusky, they accomplish the opposite of their stated intentions. And when alumni who care about their alma mater can't shut up about football when people's entire childhoods were robbed from them by a member of the football coaching staff, they're making their university look like a place with a higher than normal concentration of compassionless pricks. Even though Joe Paterno looks adorable in his big glasses, widespread myopia isn't a good look.