Much to the surprise of millions of Americans nationwide, Jerry Sandusky, former player and coach at Penn State University, proclaimed his innocence on national television in an interview with Bob Costas on Monday night.
His answers concerning the alleged sexual-abuse scandal against him left those watching in a sense of disbelief, shock and surprise.
However, those closely associated with the isolated school that essentially is the town of State College, Pa., were not as shocked as others.
“My initial reactions were two things,” said Dennis Gildea, associate professor of communications at Springfield College. “First, I was sad. Sad for the victims and sad that it happened.
“Second, I was not totally surprised because it had been their policy all along to try and keep things under wraps and it’s a silly policy. They can’t do it.”
Gildea, who earned a Ph.D. in Mass Communications from Penn State, taught at the university as well. Before he began teaching, Gildea covered Penn State athletics, including Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions, for the Pennsylvania Mirror and Centre Daily Times in State College, Pa.
“For the most part, the coaches knew that I used to cover the program and knew I was now teaching,” said Gildea. “And I think they kept a lot of their players out of my classes.”
Along with Gildea, Michael Accordino, associate professor of rehabilitation and disability studies, studied and taught at Penn State as a graduate assistant during the Joe Paterno/Sandusky era.
Although not shocked by the scandal that has been brought to light out of the dark corners of Penn State, Accordino was surprised at Sandusky’s decision to interview.
“I don’t even know why he did it,” said Accordino. “I just heard his interview and that was just really sick. I thought it was disgusting.”
During the early to mid ‘80s, Penn State was the epitome of college football. Under Paterno and Sandusky, the Nittany Lions claimed two National Championships in 1982 and 1986.
Due largely in part to the defenses and individuals that Sandusky developed, the school became known as ‘Linebacker U.’
“Sandusky was responsible as much as anyone for the two national championships,” said Gildea. “In the Fiesta Bowl in 1986, they totally shut down Testaverde and a Miami team that was a team that had a lot of guys go to the NFL.”
“Sandusky devised a defense that his policy was that you’re going to hit their receivers, and Michael Irvin was their big receiver; hit him every time he comes up, hit him until he starts to cry, and that’s what happened.”
Along with success on the field, Sandusky founded the Second Mile foundation in 1977. At least in theory, the organization helps orphaned children better themselves and their lives.
Accordino recalled meeting Sandusky when the former coach came to his hometown of Clearfield, Pa. in 1990.
“I met him,” said Accordino. “He had a fundraiser for the Second Mile organization and he came to my hometown in Clearfield, which is about 40 miles west of State College.
“He brought some former players, [and] he brought some kids. He was like Jerry Lewis at a telethon. Everybody looked up to him. This was a great organization. It taught kids who were orphans how to better themselves. He was a pillar on the campus.”
However, it now seems quite possible that Sandusky was not the man he appeared to be. Apparently, his darkest and most horrific secrets have been discovered, leaving the iconic Paterno, the coaching staff, the football program, the university and State College with insurmountable problems and necessary changes to make.
From the deepest of inner circles at Penn State, the cover-ups and events have been discovered. Paterno has been scrutinized for not doing enough, along with assistant coach Mike McQueary. McQueary, who came forth and claimed to witness Sandusky sexually abusing a child in the shower, came forward years too late.
“Maybe [McQueary] wanted to blow the whistle on this but he was afraid,” said Accordino. “That’s what I bet happened. Because when you’re a GA, you have no power; you’re dependent for your money from those guys. And he wanted to be a coach some day.”
Accordino described the campus as an “empire” with Paterno at the head. No one just walked in and talked to Paterno or the coaches. People were usually stopped well before.
From this isolated community, evil was apparently allowed to slip through the cracks. Men of great power in arguably the biggest little town in America did nothing to put a stop to the terrorizing acts Sandusky has been accused of committing.
“Like a lot of places, such as big corporations and athletic programs, they say, ‘Well, we’re just going to bury it and hope it goes away and no one discovers it.’ I think that is one thing that happened with this situation,” said Gildea. “They were doing their best to protect Jerry Sandusky. Obviously, they were protecting the wrong type of person.”
Corey Hanlon may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org