For the better part of a year, I have avoided writing about the whole Penn State–Jerry Sandusky tragedy.
And it is just that — a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. There’s the cruel villain, Sandusky, his self-interested enablers, the Penn State hierarchy — Spanier, Curley, et al; and the flawed, fallen hero, coach Joe Paterno.
The reason I’m addressing the issue at this late date is just a friendly reminder to my fellow Pennsylvanians that not only is this thing not over by a long shot — it’s just getting warmed up.
Sandusky hasn’t been sentenced yet to a well-deserved term of incarceration that will surely amount to life imprisonment, but already the legal buzzards are circling. No, strike that — the buzzards have been circling since the scandal broke — now they’re swooping in to feed on the dead.
Lawyers eager to cash in — and you know there’s no shortage of them — have engineered a book deal for Victim Number One — a young man who will finally reveal his name and identity just in time for the nationwide book tour. The amount of the deal remains undisclosed, but two things you know for sure — it’s probably a wheelbarrow full of cash, and there will be more to come. Lawsuits against the university, its administration, Sandusky and the now-dead Paterno are piling up, and many alumni have already stated that they don’t want their contributions to the school going to any sort of defense fund — either for Sandusky or the college.
It’s going to be a dark day in Happy Valley — even darker than it’s been for the past few months — once the millions of dollars in monetary awards for pain and suffering are doled out. And if you’re thinking that Penn State is such a rich institution that the money won’t mean much more than a drop in the bucket — I suggest you ask the Catholic Archdiocese whether a series of lawsuits can financially cripple a wealthy organization.
Couple those lawsuits with the fact that the football program — Penn State’s golden goose — could well take years to recover from the recruiting sanctions posed by the NCAA, and you have a whole lot of money going out, and not much coming in.
But I don’t feel sorry for Penn State or its administration. They put themselves into this situation, and mortgaged the school’s reputation and future for the sake of avoiding the public relations nightmare of turning Sandusky in themselves. As usually happens in those cases, the nightmare doubled and tripled on itself by their actions, and now the school is in a lot worse trouble than they’d have been if Paterno and Spanier had dumped Sandusky years ago when the allegations were first substantiated.
Paterno’s death, (of a broken heart say Penn State fans) did little to remove the ugly stain from his otherwise brilliant legacy of honor, decency, and hard work. Officials removed the statue of Paterno from the front of Beaver Stadium, and in fact, have purged the campus of most references to the beloved head coach known affectionately as Joe Pa. Penn State’s football team — a perennial powerhouse near the top of the rankings for decades — isn’t even nationally ranked this year. The once fearsome defense led by Sandusky and nicknamed Linebacker U. is a faded memory.
All that remains are the lawsuits. And of course, the money to be made. Which brings us back to the book deal.
Like I said, this deal is just the tip of the iceberg. You know how it goes. That one little snowball starts rolling down the hill, picking up speed and starts an avalanche.
There will be many more book deals, made-for-television movies, dozens of tearful talk show appearances by abuse victims on Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, The View and Oprah’s Next Chapter, a cable mini-series, thinly-disguised TV series plotlines “ripped from today’s headlines,” and finally a big budget Hollywood blockbuster starring Al Pacino as Joe Paterno and Dustin Hoffman as Jerry Sandusky.
And the American public, God bless ’em, will eat it up. This scandal is tailor-made to take on a life of its own, with all the salacious appeal you could ask for: sex, money, power, greed, corruption and betrayal.
Forgotten will be Sandusky’s victims — not the ones looking to cash in, but the ones simply looking for closure and the ability to sleep without seeing their predator in their dreams.
Meanwhile, the rest of America will be munching popcorn and watching the show.
Daryl Gale is the Philadelphia Tribune's city editor.