It was about 10:30 on Friday night when Twitter blew up with the news.
“Sandusky was found guilty,” I relayed to my wife.
“Thank God,” she said with a sigh.
That had to be the most universal reaction: relief. Sure, some people cheered and others hurled abuse on the convicted pedophile as he was led to jail in handcuffs. Venom is never far from the gallows.
But more than anything, the verdict of guilty against former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky on 45 of 48 counts related to sexual abuse of boys brought a sense of relief. There could be no shadow of doubt in anyone’s mind who heard even a small portion of the excruciating sworn testimony against the man who preyed on vulnerable boys seeking help in his charitable trolling net.
But you never know what will come from a jury of 12 peers when it goes behind closed doors to deliberate someone’s fate. The O.J. verdict still resonates with cynicism.
Thank God the jury got this one right. Even Sandusky’s defense lawyer knew what was coming before it was read from the jury box.
“It was the expected outcome because of the overwhelming evidence against Jerry Sandusky,” said Joe Amendola. When the most important figure on your side is citing “overwhelming evidence” against you, you’ve got trouble.
It’s hard to believe it was only seven months ago when the scope of Sandusky’s predatory behavior was first revealed with the release of the graphic grand jury findings. In that time, the scandal toppled a legendary coach, university president and director of athletics. Students looked like fools rioting because they held a football program in greater regard than defenseless children. Coach Joe Paterno died of lung cancer less than three months after being fired, his once-spotless reputation in tatters because of a monster who roamed the showers of the Nittany Lions football facility under his watch.
The aftermath of the Sandusky charges brought similar revelations about coaches at Syracuse and The Citadel and inspired victims to go public with abuse allegations against longtime Philadelphia sports columnist Bill Conlin.
While we hope that the brave young men who came forward with their stories to convict Sandusky found a measure of closure with the verdict to help them move forward with their lives, this story has no closure. It shouldn’t.
The Sandusky verdict should be an inspiration for everyone to be more vigilant about the protection of our children. To pay attention. To listen. To confront. To demand justice.
The Sandusky saga has taught us lessons about blind allegiance and faith in institutions that profess to aspire to the public good when in fact it’s their own preservation that reigns supreme.
Trial testimony revealed some uncomfortable truths about Penn State and the lengths it went to protect one of its own and its reputation at the expense of protecting these young men, many of whom would not have had to suffer these abuses if the university had acted sooner and with real moral authority.
Penn State’s reputation will forever be tarnished for either turning a blind eye to or actively covering up Sandusky’s transgressions.
Sandusky will get more protection in jail – likely segregated for the rest of his life from the inmate population that typically reviles child molesters more than murderers – than those boys were shielded by Penn State.
The university’s coffers will certainly be depleted by civil suits, and several administrators face their own criminal charges of perjury and obstruction. The stain on the program will linger even as more than 100,000 continue to show up on fall Saturday’s in Happy Valley to cheer as fervently as they once did for Sandusky and Paterno.
What is the appropriate penance for enabling a monster? Should the program voluntarily take a year off and start from scratch? Should it raze the haunted football facility where the coach showered with and raped boys?
If I were the new university president, I would consider both options to illustrate true remorse and show that it will never again be business as usual at Penn State.
But these are long-term issues. The immediate reality is that a predator has thankfully received his due justice.
Victim No. 6 wept in the courtroom as the verdict was read. While cheers erupted outside as the news filtered to the public, his mother hugged her now-grown son and told reporters, “Nobody wins. We’ve all lost.”
In many ways, she’s right. However, we won a judgment that might inspire other victims to step forward against predators and the rest of us to not ignore evil existing awkwardly in plain sight.