By Dan Bernstein–
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) Saturday was a national embarrassment for Penn State University. Its spineless leaders caved to pressure from a crazed wing of alumni and football fans and chose to publicly honor former coach Joe Paterno, despite the fact that he knowingly facilitated serial child-rape over decades.
Condemnation was swift, strong and widespread when the ceremonies were first announced. And the ensuing action reinforced the worst perceptions of a once-proud school that has allowed its image to be hijacked by cruel cultists whose creeping insanity has infected Penn State’s culture.
Christine Brennan of USA Today asked “Penn State, what in the world are you doing?” in its decision to “honor the enabler of a child rapist.” The New York Times called the ongoing Paterno-worship “groupthink at its worst,” and an op-ed by former prosecutor Jared Rosenblatt in the Philadelphia Inquirer excoriated the school for declaring that “football is more important than the victims who suffered under the watch of its beloved coach and, more importantly, all victims who remain silent about the sexual abuse they have suffered.”
One such victim, ESPN columnist Mike Wise, was moved to write a searing personal account of his abuse in response to the Paterno pageant.
“Leaders of men do not deserve to be commemorated if they cannot protect children,” he wrote. “It’s not up to the Penn State community — the unaffected fan in the stadium’s third row — to decide how Paterno’s legacy should be treated. It’s up to the men who were molested. They get to decide.”
Another powerful opinion came weeks ago from within the Penn State community itself, when the student-run Daily Collegian published an editorial decrying the Paterno tribute, associating it correctly with the “alumni who can’t accept that their time here is no longer.” Opinions Editor Lauren Davis put her name on it, and she bore the brunt of the predictably hideous response from the swarm of Paterno truthers attacking from the hive.
And these people are legion and endlessly venomous. They’re led from the inside by trustee Anthony Lubrano, who’s still trying to use procedural tactics to pack the board with like-minded votes to restore Paterno’s statue and standing, all those raped boys be damned. He has argued in fact that Sandusky’s victims are lying and that the school has been too quick to pay out the $93 million and counting in civil settlements. Lubrano has deep and well-funded support from a large group of organized alumni, many of whom have embraced the most unhinged conspiracy theories to assuage their cognitive dissonance.
That’s why we saw the “Sandusky is innocent” T-shirts being worn in Happy Valley on Saturday, as those needing such revisionism have become even that dangerously untethered from reality.
Davis has weathered the verbal assaults and now has been bolstered by an open letter to her paper Monday from 65 Penn State professors pledging “unequivocal support for students who opposed the commemoration of Joe Paterno on September 17th.” The group stands behind Davis specifically, saying: “We note with anger and sorrow that Davis has met with vicious, personal threats that are toxic to the climate of our campus. We call upon the university’s central administration and Board of Trustees to join us in condemning the hostile reaction to Davis.”
So far, there has been no such official response from Penn State leaders still held hostage by the dark and twisted forces of football and idol worship. No condemnation, no properly directed empathy for victims and no understanding of how the rest of the world views them. Their answer when called to stand for what is right is, appropriately, the same as Paterno’s was for so many years as he chose to allow a monster to commit violent crimes against children.