Mark Wiedmer: Sandusky's guilty verdicts not end of scandal for Penn State

Mark Wiedmer: Sandusky's guilty verdicts not end of scandal for Penn State

June 25th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky arrives for the first day of jury selection as his trial on 52 counts of child sexual abuse involving 10 boys over a period of 15 years gets underway at the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte, Pa., Tuesday, June 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Friday night produced one of the most surreal scenes in the history of both the American judicial system and American sports.

Surrounding a quaint Pennsylvania courthouse bathed in soft light -- a picture that easily could have been painted by Norman Rockwell -- a large crowd let out a raucous yell of approval when told that former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky had been found guilty on 45 of 48 counts in his child molestation trial.

Could someone have glimpsed this scene when this story broke last November -- to only the cheering crowd without knowledge of the reason for their behavior -- they might well have assumed Sandusky had been found innocent.

After all, we love our college football heroes in this country, especially in such pastoral settings as State College, Pa.; Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Lincoln, Neb.; and the like -- communities whose very emotional being is tied to the success or failure of Big State U.

And make no mistake. After assisting Penn State head coach Joe Paterno for 32 years before he retired at the close of the 1998 season, Sandusky was a hero to most of the Nittany Lion Nation.

So anyone unaware of the grisly grand jury details of the charges against the long-retired Sandusky -- that he repeatedly had molested 10 boys over a 15-year period -- might easily have concluded on that Nov. 5 evening that he'd beat the rap if the case were tried in the Centre County Courthouse, which stands a mere eight miles from PSU's Beaver Stadium.

But then the details came to light. Details to make you sick. Details to make you not just angry, but livid. Red-faced, profanity-laced livid. How could this possibly have happened for 15 years without someone calling the cops?

How could the seemingly Clorox-clean Paterno -- described by one lifelong State College resident in the first week of the scandal as "the moral compass" of the town -- have known nothing until more than three years after Sandusky retired?

And once knowing, how could he have done the bare minimum, passing the information on to someone higher up the food chain rather than going directly to the police?

How?

We know why -- to protect the reputation of Penn State football.

But how could anyone, particularly a parent and leader of young people such as Paterno, ignore the presence of a child molester?

HOW?

That all of this probably killed the 84-year-old Paterno within three months of the scandal first breaking surely sheds much light on the guilt he felt for doing next to nothing all those years.

And the cheers outside the Centre County Courthouse on Friday night show that sometimes justice prevails, that at least a fair number of people in central Pennsylvania -- be they Nittany Lions supporters or not -- recognized a monster when they saw one and celebrated the certain end to his reign of terror against innocent boys.

But that doesn't mean all this now goes away, however much Penn State supporters will hope it does. The legal system is not yet done with PSU's role in all this. Civil suits almost certainly will soon follow.

In many ways, this is merely the end of the first chapter of a long, sad, profoundly troubling story.

This isn't to minimize what was celebrated Friday night. In my 55 years on earth, this country has endured more than a few monsters in our midst, men capable of unthinkable evil. The Boston Strangler. John Wayne Gacy. Charles Manson. Jeffrey Dahmer. Son of Sam.

Some would rightly argue that to mention Sandusky in the same breath with serial killers is absurd. But Sandusky murdered these young men's innocence, scarred their souls, left them less than whole for the rest of their lives.

Or look at it this way: The monster's 68 years old. Many of his victims are now in their 20s, not yet one-third through their lives. They'll be forced to deal with his atrocities far longer than he'll suffer in prison.

Still, the legal system won its battle with Sandusky. The more troubling question may be what we take from this as a society, particularly where our college athletic programs are concerned.

Former Penn State star Mike Guman stubbornly (or perhaps hopefully) told philly.com over the weekend: "No matter how much they look at it, it is not Penn State football. It's Jerry Sandusky. It's one man doing acts that were just unimaginable. ... It's not the Penn State scandal."

In 2002, more than three years after he retired, Sandusky reportedly molested a boy in a shower inside the football complex. While still actively coaching he was investigated for sexually abusing a boy and was reportedly overheard by both university and State College police telling the victim's mother, "I know I was wrong. I wish I was dead."

But the capper is this: Less than a month before he was arrested last fall, Sandusky was a guest of university administrators in a Beaver Stadium luxury box during a game.

If that's not a Penn State scandal, what is?