Take a deep, long, slow breath. In and out.
Good. Now take another. Now comes the tough part. See if you can apply the same technique while thinking about Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno and everything else Penn State.
Your breathing just quickened again, didn’t it?
The facts of the last two weeks — the 40 counts of sexual abuse Sandusky, the former football assistant coach and founder and face of the Second Mile program, is being charged with; the removal of Paterno and university president Graham Spanier from their respective positions; the grand jury testimony of assistant coach Mike McQueary — have been stunning, shattering, hard to comprehend or fathom.
That’s what we know, and that is enough to make it hard to breathe or think.
So why does everyone seem so insistent on getting worked up over what we don’t know?
Let’s put aside the fact that Sandusky still has to stand trial for those alleged crimes and focus on the two figures that have generated nearly as much discussion, if not more, than the alleged sexual predator himself — Paterno and McQueary. Both are being vilified or defended for their actions or inactions based on a few paragraphs of a grand jury presentment and a whole lot of speculation.
Does anyone know exactly what McQueary saw in the Lasch Building shower in 2002? Yes — McQueary, who gave one version of that story to the grand jury. Did he give another version to Paterno? Another to Tim Curley and Gary Schultz? We don’t know.
Does anyone know exactly what Paterno did once he heard that story from McQueary? Yes — Paterno, who told the grand jury that he talked to Curley about the incident. Do we know what else the coach did? Do we know what Paterno knew about any of the other alleged victims, at least one of whom was purportedly assaulted while Sandusky was still on the Penn State staff in 1998? No. Paterno isn’t talking. Yet.
Does anyone know exactly why the board of trustees chose to remove Paterno from his head coaching position just hours after the 84-year-old coach had publicly announced he would retire at the end of the season? Not exactly, and the trustees aren’t in any hurry to offer specific details.
The unknowns outnumber the knowns, and yet opinions abound. It’s too late to tell people not to rush to judgment because most have already arrived.
That even one child was assaulted in any way by anyone is a tragedy. And if even one of those assaults took place after the alleged assailant could have been caught and stopped, it is a both a tragedy and a failure of our society. Not just Penn State, not just the United States, but humankind. But until more investigation is done, until all parties have had the chance to speak, we can’t know who is responsible — legally and morally — for that failure.
And yet we want to know, and we want to know now. The nature of the crimes demands it as much as the breakneck pace at which today’s news is delivered and consumed. It isn’t enough to know that we can bring an alleged predator to justice; we must also provide justice for those who stood idly by and allowed that predator to stalk and harm his prey.
But to see that justice done, we need more facts. And they’re being sought after — by a special investigation committee and, yes, by the media.
I know what hurts and incenses many people who have followed this story is the way the characters and the university have been portrayed by the media. And I wish I could tell you that all of the reports have been responsible or balanced or even based in fact. But there have been several fair and balanced and important stories — some emerging from local outlets, some from national outlets — that have been the work of some great reporting, stories that could not only potentially help see that justice is done in this case but have also brought awareness to the larger issue of abuse and could help prevent future cases.
To lump every responsible reporter in with those who seek to sensationalize and achieve their own agendas is no different than lumping every graduate of Penn State or citizen of Centre County in with the criminals who live here and in every other part of the world.
The good news, if there is any that has come out of the past two weeks, is that the microscopes and magnifying glasses are out now. National reporters who flocked to State College at the outset of the story are still here; others have followed. Investigators are beginning or continuing their fact-finding journeys.
The truth is there to be found. And with persistence and diligence and luck, we will find it, if only in small pieces at a time.
Until we do, until we can sort through the rumors and uncertainty and better pinpoint what everyone’s roles in this tragedy were, let’s all try a little less judging and a little more breathing.