By Dan Bernstein–
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) It really only changes the timeline, the latest revelation from a Pennsylvania judge that a boy told former football coach Joe Paterno in 1976 that he had been molested by Jerry Sandusky and that assistant coaches had witnessed other inappropriate contact between Sandusky and children.
We already knew Paterno had been aware that his lieutenant was a child molester, but this somehow makes the historically hideous Penn State scandal even worse.
We knew from his sworn testimony in front of a grand jury and under deposition, knew from his own admission, knew from emails made public, knew from his desperate efforts to exile Sandusky to Altoona and from his ultimate removal from the actual coaching staff. What we didn’t know before Thursday was when the awareness began, but now we have a better idea.
Forty years ago.
Soon after that in 1977, Sandusky created a cultivation mechanism to use the Penn State football program to groom his many victims. Called the Second Mile, he conceived of the perfect pipeline for kids on which to prey – collecting them from broken homes, boys in need of a father figure and easily controlled, unlikely to advocate for themselves or be believed even if they did. His farm flourished with Paterno’s tacit blessing, keeping him supplied with innocent boys to fondle and rape.
The current official accounting is 32 victims, with the school having paid out a total of $93 million. The meter is still running for both numbers, which are likely to keep climbing as more are empowered to come forward.
Patrick Perion has been a child abuse investigator for the State of Illinois since 1994 and has written for multiple outlets about the Penn State scandal and other notable abuse cases. Regarding Thursday’s news, he wrote that if eventually proved in court, “The fact that Paterno was aware of Sandusky’s crimes in 1976 and still let him bring minor boys to bowl games could very well be considered trafficking. Penn State football essentially was a front for a child sexual abuser. If Paterno was alive he could be facing federal charges for criminal conspiracy.”
Not that it matters to many in central Pennsylvania, where a deep and awful sickness remains.
Efforts continue to restore Paterno’s name to some impossible past glory, with everyone from broken fans to confused former players, misguided trustees and venal politicians working to create a history that doesn’t exist. They remain undeterred in trying to honor their disgraced idol with statues and murals and official proclamations, feeding the craven emptiness within themselves as they heartlessly insult all of Sandusky’s victims and intimidate those who have yet to find the courage to speak.
Paterno’s sad wife and children continue to thrash about from their now-darkened hollows, spending money on lawyers and PR flacks to hold together any surviving shreds of reputation. They speak to this echo-chamber of unfortunate souls, all unaware that to those outside of the infected enclave of Happy Valley, they appear to be clinically insane.
The statue may indeed stand again, no matter the amount of information that indicts the man it depicts as a knowing facilitator of decades of child-rape. That doesn’t matter to these people, nor do the actual human beings whose lives were destroyed by a monster.
Sandusky rots behind bars and Paterno molders in his grave, as more shadows of men step out courageously into the light and the school cuts more checks.
Meanwhile, Happy Valley keeps pushing against the tide of history, trying to go back to something that never really was and telling the victims to be damned.