Showergate: Paterno, Penn State Football, Sandusky and Why They All Knew

Terry Waldrop@terrywaldropContributor INovember 17, 2011

STATE COLLEGE, PA - OCTOBER 29:  Joe Paterno addresses the media after the game against the Illinois Fighting Illini on October 29, 2011 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania.  The Nittany Lions defeated the Fighting Illini 10-7.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Everyone in the country is trying to come to grips with how and why the Penn State child abuse holocaust occurred. The how and why seems to be manifesting new information daily, and at some point, most of the twisted and sorted details will come to the light of day. The most respected collegiate coaches and virtually every pundit have been addressing the issue, and in unison, showing prayerful concern and heart felt compassion for the innocent children who were the victims of this almost unimaginable series of crimes. 

There is no doubt that Joe Paterno is one of the best coaches in any sport that has ever lived. He is an icon nationally, and there is no more revered person in the history of Penn State than Paterno. He is legendary for his philanthropic gifts and his love of the students and Penn State University. By all accounts he is a humble and very good man, and those who know him swear by his values, character, work ethic and his wisdom.  

Paterno built Penn State football into a national brand that is as American as apple pie. The public and not-so-public NCAA trials and travails of numerous other contemporary coaches and programs that have been scandal plagued throughout the years have never darkened the doors of Penn State. Paterno and Penn State Football have stood the test of time with a cloak of honor, character and untarnished reputation, until now.

Make no mistake that major college coaches such as Paterno, Nick Saban, Coach K, Roy Williams, Mack Brown, etc. are CEO’s of multi-million dollar corporations. Their product or their company is the football or basketball program they are in charge of with the institution deriving enormous financial benefits from the success of the program as well as the coaches, AD’s and essentially everyone associated with that product. 

The CEO of any high profile organization is responsible for everything that goes on within that company from the largest decision to the smallest detail. It is their job to know what transpires and for them to set the tone of what is acceptable and what is not. The CEO’s or coaches set their organizational culture along with the AD’s and presidents. It is their collective job to make decisions about policy, procedure, personnel and protocols under their watch. The NCAA defines this as "institutional control" as it relates to athletics.

STATE COLLEGE, PA - NOVEMBER 12:   A Penn State fan carries a 'Say it ain't so' sign outside Beaver Stadium after the Penn State vs. Nebraska NCAA football game in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal on November 12, 2011 in State College, Pennsylvania.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Controversial former Oklahoma football Coach Barry Switzer is the only one thus far I have seen who has alluded to the bigger picture. It is not a pleasant thought, yet as this investigation widens and the public scrutiny increases, it will have to be considered. Switzer touches on who knew and when with his carefully worded cutting remarks to the Daily Oklahoman, in which he offered:

“Having been in this profession a long time and knowing how close coaching staffs are, I knew that this was a secret that was kept secret. Everyone on that had to have known, the ones that had been around a long time,”

“You think that a 13-year assistant ... hasn’t told someone else? His wife? His father? People knew. The community knew .There are more people culpable than just Joe Paterno and the athletic director. There are so many other people that have thought, ‘I could’ve done something about this, too’ that didn’t come forward. That’s the tragedy of it,”” Switzer stated.

Switzer is correct in that people knew.  Lots of people knew. Let me say that again: Lots of people knew.

Sandusky was Paterno’s closest confidant and served as his assistant since 1969. If you have ever been on a coaching staff, you understand what that means. Is there any rational human being that doesn’t think that the single most powerful man in Happy Valley, if not that part of Pennsylvania, did not know what heinous allegations were made against the incredibly popular Sandusky beginning as early as 1998? 


Sandusky told University police in addition to a social worker that he "showered with young boys" (meaning several) and that he "hugged them" in the shower. Is there any possible way that information be it rumor or not didn’t get back to the president, athletic director, Joe Paterno and Board of Trustee members at Penn State?

We have an incredibly popular and visible coach in Sandusky, who, by his own admission to police, confirms that he is in the habit of showering with young boys on what has to be a somewhat regular basis, yet inexplicably, the now missing and presumed dead District Attorney declined to pursue the case any further and dropped the inquiry. Were Paterno, AD Curley and the President comfortable that their high-profile employee was showering with young boys despite the fact the District Attorney declined to pursue the matter?

Hardly. In fact, they were so comfortable they allowed Sandusky to bring a boy to San Antonio as a member of the official party for the Alamo Bowl in 1999. 

Fast forward a year, and Sandusky mysteriously retires at the height of his popularity and profession.  A full season goes by after the first shower gate incident where Sandusky coaches the Penn State team. Certainly if the other coaches knew, and almost certainly many would have, this had to be a very awkward and tense working environment with Sandusky around.  

Abruptly in June of  1999, Sandusky retires, offering only a publically professed desire to spend more time with his charity as the reason for the much unexpected departure from Penn State football.

Is it possible there was anyone at Penn State conversing around a water cooler who knew the situation that may have thought having Sandusky spend more time with his charity might be a really bad idea?

STATE COLLEGE, PA - NOVEMBER 12:  The Penn State Nittany Lions and the Nebraska Cornhuskers line up during the game on November 12, 2011 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania.  Nebraska won 17-14. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

When Sandusky departed the coaching staff in 1999, it looks like Penn State Football, Joe Paterno, the President, the AD, etc. exhaled a sigh of relief as Sandusky appeared to be purged from their midst.  

Unfortunately, giving him emeritus status only increased his visibility. His unfettered access to young boys combined with unlimited and unquestioned access to any Penn State facility he wanted would go rampantly unchecked for the next decade under the watchful eye of, well, no one.

Apparently wasting no time after he departed the football program, two additional janitors reported seeing Sandusky again in the showers with a young boy in 1999, and it was reported in the custodial department, even up to a supervisory level, yet still nothing was done by anyone to stop this alleged predator. Is it possible that a janitor or supervisor told a football coach, the AD or a secretary that a former football coach was engaged in shenanigans in the football shower room with a pre-teen?  Is there a chance this incident was not known by the Penn State power brokers, including Coach Paterno? 

The now famous "shower gate" in 2002 in which then graduate assistant football coach McQueary reported seeing Sandusky raping a child in the football showers certainly had to make it up the food chain to the highest levels including Joe Paterno, the AD and the President, among others. Grand Jury testimony of Joe Paterno and McQueary both indicate that the Penn State brass was told about this in graphic and disturbing detail. 

Joe Paterno, McQueary, Bill Curley, President Graham Spanier and Vice President Schultz all had the opportunity to go to the real police. Do you find it odd that not one person did?

UNIVERSITY PARK, PA - NOVEMBER 9: The Second Mile offices are seen on November 9, 2011 in University Park, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The Clery Act requires the police are notified and the allegations go on the Clery Crime report, which is a Federal Law.  Is it possible that the AD, Coaches, President and Vice Presidents weren’t aware of their obligation under Federal Law to report this allegation? 

If we go on the premise that everyone knew (and they did), the question becomes why didn’t someone—anyone—say anything?

What would make highly educated, highly successful, extraordinarily compensated high profile and respected men such as Paterno, the AD, the president and vice president remain silent for so long and ignore multiple reports over a period of years involving Sandusky’s repulsive clandestine activities with young boys?

That answer, as painful as it is to think about must be considered.  One of the only possible logical explanations as Switzer alluded to but didn’t say directly is what everyone is now starting to consider. 

Did Jerry Sandusky have something on Penn State University, and specifically, the football program and Joe Paterno that he used as a bargaining chip to procure and receive the proverbial get-out-of jail-free card? 

This is a possibility and not fact—yet.

Is it possible that Penn State swept the first instance under the rug in exchange for Sandusky’s retirement at the end of the next season?  Later, when he was caught yet again, Sandusky’s negotiating chip was much higher, as Penn State and the power brokers were now complicit in his activities for several years. Turning on Sandusky now could not only bring Sandusky down, but themselves and the machine that is Penn State football as well.

Jay Richardson of Ohio State turns Anthony Morelli's helmet on a tackle during action between Penn State and Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio on September 23, 2006.  Ohio State won 28-6. (Photo by G. N. Lowrance/Getty Images)
G. N. Lowrance/Getty Images

What price would people pay in order to protect the reputation and industry that is Penn State football and the legendary Joe Paterno?

Barry Switzer is right in that people knew. The questions and aftermath of Sandusky’s fallout are a case study in lack of institutional control, morals, common sense and the ultimate goal of all educators, which is to protect children.

Why did men of seemingly impeccable character keep silent? Is there another logical explanation we are not privy to yet? Many are praying for just such an explanation. We are waiting to hear Coach Paterno make some sense of the situation. I hope that there is a logical rational explanation, but I fear self-preservation will be at the core of the problem.  

Does anyone remember Baylor? It really isn’t that difficult to grasp the concept if you think about it.  Self-preservation is something we all possess, but what price are we willing to pay?

What ultimately will be the cost of that intentional silence, which if true, will be the most damaging and costly scandal to ever surface in college athletics? What toll has it exacted upon the yet untold countless victims and the lives of their families now and in the future?

The victims deserve to know why no one thought them worthy of help through the years. They deserve to know why they were considered inferior by people who could have, should have and were paid to help them sat idly by and pretended they didn’t exist.

The victims deserve to know what the going rate was for their childhood and innocence. Their screams ignored for so long will be silent no more. They now speak with a deafening roar, and we need to listen succinctly to them as a society and leave no stone unturned no matter how toxic the truth, no matter what the cost. Make no mistake, that cost will be nothing compared to the lives of the children that were ruined forever. 

STATE COLLEGE, PA - NOVEMBER 12:   Penn State fans leave notes for Joe Paterno outside Beaver Stadium after the Penn State vs. Nebraska NCAA football game in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal on November 12, 2011 in State College, Pennsylvania.  Penn
Mario Tama/Getty Images

We didn’t listen before, but maybe, just maybe, we will listen this time. Those silent helpless screams that fell on deaf ears for so long have finally have gotten our attention. It should be seared permanently into all of us to do everything in our power to make sure it never happens again.


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