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Spiegel: Penn State’s Impossibly Slow Culture Change

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John Surma announces that Penn State president Graham Spanier and football head coach Joe Paterno have been fired during the Penn State Board of Trustees Press Conference. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

John Surma announces that Penn State president Graham Spanier and football head coach Joe Paterno have been fired during the Penn State Board of Trustees Press Conference. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

spiegs Matt Spiegel
For the last decade, Matt Spiegel has been a nationally syndicated...
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By Matt Spiegel-

(WSCR) The Penn State Board of Trustees did what they had to do, and deserve kudos for their first act of decisive power. But they did not do enough. Tom Bradley is in as coach; a man hired by Jerry Sandusky, and a major cog in the machine. Bradley has essentially been the functioning head coach, in support of the figurehead Joe Paterno, for years. This is nowhere near a clean enough break, long term. Bradley has been there as a player, then a coach, since 1975. He coached for and with Sandusky for 2 decades. And, Mike McQueary is still on staff for Saturday’s game.

Come on.

You have to remove any coach or administrator who knew and looked the other way. Anyone that has been a part of the machinery that allowed this to happen.

The culture that allowed this to happen in the first place was there on display last night. Values were obvious amongst the masses, in their proper State College order. The main anger in the room for that bizarre press conference, filled with sycophantic young media and perhaps a few outright fans, was for the coach’s fate. There was no anger for his oversight, or for the victims, or over the institutional failure. These are the priorities as they’ve been. Almost every question at the presser was about Joe. No one even asked about the school president. Then predictably, thousands marched, rallied, and screamed for the loss of dignity to their fallen leader.

One day those impossibly naive, loud-just-for-fun youth will eventually mature, and they’ll be deeply, horribly ashamed. The “protesters” “rioting” apparently have made it this far into the story with zero context. Every teacher at that school needs to read the 23 page grand jury report aloud in class. Project it onto a screen at the front of the room. Seize this teachable moment and pass on lessons of humanity, of predators, of not just legal but also moral responsibility. Discuss that embarrassment of a press conference with your journalism students. Break down the failures in the administration to your management students. The sociology and political science curriculum should be infused with aspects of this, available to all.

As the outrage showed itself for the coach and no one else, you perhaps began to understand how these men, coaches as kings, could feel like anything is allowable, like anything can be swept away. Who would dare challenge them? Anything could be swept away, in the best interests of the program, without reproach. They were blind to the outside world, 3 hours away via car, and farther still in theory.

As you thought of the events of the last 2 days, you see that that culture finally starting to shift. Paterno wanted the press conference on Tuesday. He was ready with a statement, ready to take questions. President Spanier cancelled it. Yesterday Paterno announced that he would resign at year’s end. The Board terminated him. This was a public loss of power, finally. As John Surma, the president of US Steel and the VP of the Board of Trustees said, “this was in the best interests of the university, which is much bigger than athletic programs.” That’s true today, for the first time in decades. Paterno was fired over the phone. An absolute legend didn’t get the face to face treatment. And he didn’t deserve it.

Surma’s son, by the way, played football for Paterno. Didn’t everyone in that room have a son or nephew or brother who played for him? I wonder how they feel, knowing their kin showered in rooms used for vile, damaging sexual brutality. I bring it back to the victims as often as necessary, to keep the focus where it should be. What will those kids, now young men, have for a normal life? How will they function? Many of them will never have a healthy romantic relationship…many will not ever feel truly safe, truly loved and validated. Lives were ruined by Jerry Sandusky, and the powers at Penn State let it happen.

Theo Fleury, the former NHL player whose young life was ravaged by similar crimes, has become a man unafraid to speak about those damages. He tweeted last night, before the press conference and “riots,” about those young Sandusky victims. “Hey survivors of sexual abuse you are not alone. The world is finally standing up (and) taking notice. May you all be empowered.”

That’d be the best, most important thing to come out of this awful week.

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