The worst week in Penn State history. Without doubt. And some reports suggest there may be more disturbing news to come. Could there be anything more disturbing than what we already know? That children were sexually abused by the very people who purported to act as their protectors and advocates? And that powerful people were more concerned about protecting the image of the University than bringing the perpetrator to justice?
In the news this week the focus was all on Joe Paterno and the question of whether he did enough with the information he had. In our heart of hearts we could not believe Joe knew anything about it. We pleaded with the TV screen: “Say it ain’t so, Joe!” But gradually we learned the truth. He knew enough. He should have done more.
The outrage for the victims of these crimes took far too long to surface in the media. But not on the Penn State campus. It was a poignant moment when, instead of the traditional pre-game rally, students held a candlelight vigil for the victims.
“Penn State’s Old Main lawn glowed with the light of candles late Friday as thousands of students and alumni gathered to pray for the alleged victims of a child sex-abuse scandal that has left an anguished campus searching for ways to heal.
The massive gathering outside the university’s administrative nerve center was the first step toward healing, said its organizers, who felt some on campus had lost sight of the scandal’s greatest casualty, the eight boys former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky has been charged with molesting over a 15-year period.
Jessica Sever, a senior public relations major who organized the candlelight gathering, said her classmates were yearning for something positive amid a torrent of negative publicity.
She was among the somber crowd that filled nearly the entire lawn, where another contingent rioted two days earlier after the university trustees fired iconic football coach Joe Paterno.
Friday night’s crowd numbered as many as 10,000 by some estimates.” (Sadie Gurman Toledoblade.com)
It is interesting to note that the organizer of the rally was a student. She is a public relations major, but let’s not hold that against her — this was a PR nightmare and she had the right response. But I am jaded enough to wonder: If she hadn’t organized the rally, would the University’s PR machine have done so? Frankly, I think she put them to shame by getting it done as quickly as she did. I envision the PSU marketing and development staff huddled around their TV screens watching the vigil, sort of like you would see on The West Wing when a news story was breaking: everyone silent, but looking into one another’s eyes knowing they were screwed and thinking how to put the spin on for the press conference. The Penn State staffers were probably smacking themselves on the forehead for not thinking to organize a vigil themselves.
It is very sad that this marks the end of the career of one of the greatest coaches in college football history. But I want to think that the Joe Paterno we all thought we knew would respond “My legacy is not important. My legacy will be nothing if the children who were harmed do not find justice.”