Saturday, November 19, 2011

Of Penn State and My Time in Happy Valley

In the year 2000, we moved from Florida to State College, PA. Tom got a job teaching lighting design at Penn State and we were off on a new adventure. I had only lived in Los Angeles and Miami back then so State College was a bit of a culture shock for me.

A few weeks before we left Florida, I saw an online ad for a Development Assistant in the local newspaper. I sent in my resume and hoped for the best. The day after I arrived in State College, I got a phone call to come interview for the position. I went to the interview and it went well since a day or two later, I got the job. I was the Development Assistant for The Second Mile. Yes, that Second Mile.

I have to state up front that I never ever saw anything untoward going on there. It wasn’t the best job I ever had, it wasn’t the worst. It was a job. During my tenure at The Second Mile, there was never any indication of the things we all know were happening. I guess you never know what lurks underneath.

At work, everyone was always telling me how wonderful the founder was and how they couldn’t wait for me to meet him. Everyone loved Jerry Sandusky. It was a little strange to me because I had no idea who this man was. I really don’t follow college football. But they were correct, Jerry was a very nice man. He was personable. He would come into the office every once in a while and he always had a smile and a kind word.

This is what bothers me now. You never ever really know people do you? Sometimes monsters don’t look or act like monsters. Sometimes, they look perfectly normal; sometimes they act perfectly normal, if there is such a thing. Would I have pegged him for a child molester? My honest answer: No.

In State College though I learned pretty quickly Penn State football was a religion. Joe Paterno was the Pope. Jerry was like an Archbishop. Everyone wanted to meet him. Everyone wanted to take their picture with him. People wanted an autographed book. He was at our events and people flocked to him. When people outside of TSM found out I worked there, the first thing I was asked was if I had met Jerry. Since I was an outsider, I couldn’t really understand the level of hero worship that I saw in Happy Valley. But I believe it was this culture though that allowed crimes to be committed.

I am one of the most cynical people you will ever meet. It takes a lot to shock me but this did. I was not only shocked but horrified. I know that pedophiles are sick people who prey on the weak. They are sick and damaged. I am not excusing his behavior but I wonder what happened to him to make him the predator he became. Was he abused when he was younger? Or was he just damaged?

When I saw the interview with Bob Costas it reminded me of the Michael Jackson interview where he found nothing wrong with sleeping in the same bed with a young boy. Pedophiles are delusional and somehow they must convince themselves that what they do is okay. I have no idea. His behavior is inexcusable whether he believes he did nothing wrong. And while in this country the motto is innocent until proven guilty, I believe after reading that sickening grand jury indictment that Mr. Sandusky needs to go to jail for a long, long time.

The other thing that makes me sick about this whole thing, however, is so many people knew about this and did nothing. This was not just one isolated incident. This had been brewing for decades. There is not one witness but several witnesses who saw the abuse. I just am gobsmacked that McQuery, Paterno, Spanier and the others never ever reported this to the authorities. I cannot wrap my head around that.

I also find myself wondering if there something I missed that year I worked at the Second Mile. I wonder if others missed it too. When I read a new article, editorial or see Jerry’s face splashed all over the Internet, I wonder who knew. Did my bosses at The Second Mile know? Did any of the board members or volunteers know? I may never know.

I also wonder why these people decided not to do the RIGHT thing when they knew what was going on. Do you wake up one day and say I will keep quiet when I see crimes being committed? How do they live with themselves? And how can anyone defend someone who did nothing in this case?

It is painfully obvious that many people knew and chose to do NOTHING. How can you watch a child be raped and do NOTHING? It’s a sad day when people see a pattern of abuse happening and choose to turn a blind eye. Shame on them!

Sure, we hear that all those involved did what they were legally required to do. WTF? Shouldn't doing what is morally correct supersede doing what is legally required? Frankly, they were covering their ass and protecting the institution and probably hoped this would never come to light. But as my abuelita would say: entre cielo y tierra no hay nada oculto. Translation: Between heaven and earth there is nothing unseen. And usually things come out regardless of how much you try to cover them up.

Being a cynic, I usually don’t expect much from people. But I do expect people to have a tiny bit of basic human decency and do the right thing when it is warranted. I shouldn’t be surprised though. Time and time again, people will give up their humanity and integrity because they are more interested in saving their own jobs or not tarnishing the image they so carefully built up. What is funny is that so many kept their mouths shut to preserve the myth of Penn State, Paterno etc. and it still got out. I am glad they were all f*&king exposed!

All I know is that there have been many lives that have been shattered and destroyed. First by a pedophile and then by people not doing the right thing. I, for one, have no sympathy for any of these people. If it were up to me, all of them would be in jail where they all belong.

Right now, I know the only thing to do is to wait for all this to play out. I just hope the victims get justice. They deserve that much. I think Jerry will go to jail and hopefully it will be for the rest of his life. I am not sure about the others. My cynical side says that they will not be punished as they should be. So I can only hope that there will be some "Karmatic" justice that will punish all those involved in covering these heinous crimes.

I never imagined years ago when we moved to State College and I started working at The Second Mile that something like this would hit close to home. It sickens me. It saddens me. I apologize for being so damn preachy and bordering on the melodramatic but I think this post warranted that. My outrage warranted it. I just hope that people take this whole scandal as a lesson to SPEAK UP, CALL THE POLICE, and CHOOSE DO THE RIGHT THING.


  1. I can't say anything you haven't already said. Excellent article. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and insights.

  2. I agree with you all the way. Those who are guilty of silence are just as at fault as the person who did the crime.

    I also agree that sports, all of them, in this country are way too important. I only wish our society valued education as much as it values sports.