GRIZ GRIT: Fall Out at Penn State

By MICK HOLIEN for the Flathead Beacon

As a parent, and now as a grandparent, the one thing you want to be assured of when your son or daughter is entrusted to another adult for any activity is that those responsible will protect them.

But on occasion those in leadership have used their posts to prey on potential victims. And those who are in a position to report and stop such abuse turn a blind eye, thus allowing the transgressions to continue.

I am Jesuit-educated (Gonzaga Prep) and I was outraged when allegations of sexual abuse surfaced in the very Spokane diocese where I was raised.

Most worrisome to me is that the reported offenders were protected and, in some cases, just transferred to where they would be exposed to another set of potential victims.

These people place themselves in positions of responsibility.  They often are iconic figures in you people’s lives.

Now, an iconic football program at Penn State University has been rocked by numerous allegations of sexual abuse by a prominent football coach.  The institution leadership miserably failed to live up to the moral responsibility that nothing trumps – protecting our children.

There is plenty of blame to be passed around, fingers to be pointed.  But it comes more than a decade too late to protect those who were vicitmized after charges should have been brought against Jerry Sandusky, legendary coach Jo Paterno’s former defensive coordinator.

Sundusky retired in 1999 – the question as to why he was not offered a high-level position elsewhere was open to speculation.

He had been investigated for alleged sexual transgressions yet not charged in 1998.  He continued to have complete access to the school’s athletic department and also founded an organization that would bring him even closer to children.

Paterno faces no criminal charges at this time.  Though, when he was told by Mike McQueary in 2002 about a shower incident between Sandusky and a young boy, Paterno was not troubled enough to fulfill a moral responsibility to do anything but advise his athletic director, who did nothing but barely pass the information along.

McQueary, 28 at the time but now the team’s receivers coach, didn’t attempt to intervene, called his father and went home, reporting the incident to Paterno the following day.

The sexual perversions allegedly continued and may even have accelerated.  A grand jury document said that one victim testified he was abused more than 40 times in 2008.

Is it really possible that a person like Paterno grows so iconic and powerful, so above the fray, so pompous or distracted by football, the he fails to follow his moral compass?

The rallies of support at Paterno’s home and the downtown riot after his dismissal were unfortunate.  The display was disrespectful to all victims of sexual abuse and dishonored the institution.

And to hear the school’s president, who also was fired, initially line up in support of the athletic director and the man who stood in oversight of the campus police department also was appalling.

More heads will roll, more criminal and civil charges will be filed.  But overlooked are not just the victims in Pennsylvania but all who have been victimized and continue to struggle with the consequences.   The Penn State case brings to the forefront the misplaced guilt they feel and the issues of trust and lack of confidence that haunt them.

And what about those victims who forever have maintained silence about incidents of sexual abuse?

The word “coach” is a reverent term, used even after a person’s retirement, that in my lifetime has stood for a person of high regard, beyond reproach, and on lofty moral ground.

To me, the word never will have the same meaning.


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Now in his 27th year of broadcasting University of Montana football or basketball games, award winning journalist Mick Holien has a unique and insightful perspective on collegiate athletics.