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PSU: Not too big to fail

Being hosed by more than the 'hygiene defense'

MIKE MCQUEARY, the Penn State assistant football coach, testified last Friday in the preliminary hearing for Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, former Penn State administrators charged with perjury in the Jerry Sandusky case. The charges against Sandusky and his alleged sexual-abuse crimes against young boys is truly troubling; when you hear of what little Curley, Schultz and Joe Paterno did after being informed of the heinous behavior, it takes it to an even higher level of outrage.

I'm still stunned and even angrier as I hear the testimony of McQueary, and the grand-jury testimony of Paterno, Schultz and Curley. For years I've railed against the abuse of power by Penn State and the almost "too big to fail" attitude that they enjoyed across Pennsylvania. When this bubble finally burst, it was not a financial meltdown but a moral meltdown of the highest order.

I always felt that the so-called leaders at Penn State would do whatever they wanted, particularly when it came to the football team. But who could even conceive that they would allegedly allow a pedophile to roam the landscape and showers of their buildings, preying on young boys?

Of course, there was comic relief to go along with the drama of McQueary's testimony. Karl Rominger, the newest member of Sandusky's "dream team" of lawyers, told us that in regard to all the showers that Sandusky was enjoying with young boys, there was a perfectly plausible and legitimate explanation.

Mr. Rominger, while maintaining a straight face, said, "Teaching a person to shower at the age of 12 or 14 would sound strange to some people, but, actually, people who work with troubled youth would tell you that there are a lot of juvenile delinquents or people who are dependent who have to be taught basic life skills, like how to put soap on your body."

Maybe the hygiene defense would have worked in the minds of Paterno, Curley and Schultz, since they convinced themselves that Sandusky was just engaged in horseplay. I guess, in their minds, the kids were lucky to have a showering mentor.

Aside from this insulting defense that defied logic, I was particularly interested in the grand-jury testimony of Joe Paterno that was read into the record of the preliminary trial. I was looking to see the Joe Paterno who not only won football games but also could discuss the lessons of the classics. I didn't find him.

Paterno testified that even though McQueary came to his house on a Saturday morning and told him that he had seen Sandusky molesting a 10-year-old in the showers at Penn State, he didn't call athletic director Curley because it was a Saturday and he didn't want to disrupt his weekend. Really, JoePa?

Paterno also testified that the incident presented quite a dilemma for him because Sandusky was no longer his employee. So, a coach lionized for being able to see beyond the football field can't figure what to do about an alleged horrible crime against young kids?

He also said that he reported it to Curley, and he had a lot of faith in him. So, when Curley and Schultz did nothing, Joe kept the faith and simply forgot about it. He met his legal obligation to that 10-year-old. He did all that he could to stop Sandusky. He wasn't Joe Paterno when the time called for principled moral leadership, but ordinary Joe.

As you're reading this, you might be thinking to yourself, "Dom's too hard on JoePa. What about McQueary, Curley and Schultz? What about Sandusky getting his day in court? Aren't we rushing to judgment?"

McQueary, Schultz and Curley, at best, all failed the kids involved in these incidents. At worst, in the case of Curley and Schultz, they broke laws. As far as JoePa, I think that getting it right as far as his actions is critical. If a guy so revered failed so miserably, we have a right to ask why.

Was it arrogance, cowardice or a robotic self-preservation that allowed him to not live up to his reputation? Or was it that Penn State had morphed into an entity that set its own rules and was not beholden to outside laws? McQueary testified that when he talked to Schultz, he thought that he was talking to the police. What gave him that idea?

Maybe, as a former student and football player, he got the idea that Penn State, and particularly Joe Paterno, ran things the right way. If they told you that they had handled Sandusky, then that was good enough.

As we're learning, not one of the so-called leaders at Penn State did enough.