It’s not a tragedy for Joe Paterno, or Graham Spanier, or any one of a thousand students whose school just became a national punch line.
It’s not a tragedy for alumni who will have to answer questions for a week or two from prurient and stupid work colleagues.
It’s not a tragedy for football fans, or for student athletes.
This is a tragedy for the children raped by Jerry Sandusky, and that is IT.
I am just about done hearing everybody describe this as a terrible situation for all those involved. It’s actually not a terrible situation for all those involved. It’s a difficult situation for just about everybody who will maybe do some interviews, write a book, and otherwise not miss a meal or have any problems beyond a couple of seriously awkward Thanksgivings. This includes Joe Paterno, who by the most charitable description of his conduct was deliberately oblivious to a very sick man in his employ. This includes Graham Spanier, who actually comes off looking the worst in all this, as the guy who said, “Look, an adequate response here is that we just ask him not to bring his victims around here anymore.”
I am just about done with pontificating about what this all means for the future of the football program and what it means for college athletics and what it says about our culture and blah blah blah, because none of those consequences are actual, you know, things. Joe Paterno’s “legacy” will be tarnished as a result of this.. Penn State’s legacy will be tarnished. Let me ask you this: SO WHAT? Tell me in actual terms what that might mean. No applause at the alumni dinners? Maybe donations take a little bit of a dip for ten minutes? Paterno and Spanier don’t get invited to the swank parties anymore?
None of that can even compare to the damage done to those Sandusky harmed and others failed to protect. What has happened to Joe Paterno, Graham Spanier, and Penn State is an inconvenience. What has happened to Sandusky’s victims is a tragedy. Paterno and Spanier may be publicly embarrassed, footnoted in Wikipedia, and looked at sideways for a while. Sandusky’s victims will carry this forever, and there will be no sympathetic retrospective for them in 10 years, in which they can thoughtfully reflect on how hard it all was but how it brought them closer to Jesus or whatever it is these people will say.
I used to cover stories like this, back when the priest abuse scandal broke. I covered a trial in which victim after victim testified to the harm done to them, to the lives they had after being used so cruelly by someone they trusted. I sat next to a father as he wept outside the courthouse, because he had encouraged his children to spend time with the man who ruined them. It saved some of them, coming forward. It ruined others. A few years later one of those same victims was arrested and charged with possession of child pornography. This ruins everything, stains everything forward. Very little that can be done in the way of firings, resignations, or public humiliation can even come close.