Ten years after an epic failure, Penn State rises from the ashes of the Sandusky scandal

YORK DISPATCH EDITORIAL BOARD
Jerry Sandusky
  • The Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal broke open in November of 2011.
  • The former Penn State football assistant was evenually convicted or 45 counts of child sexual abuse.
  • Legendary PSU head football coach Joe Paterno was fired shortly after the scandal emerged.
  • Three Penn State administrators served time in jail, including then-PSU president Graham Spanier.

Ten years ago, Pennsylvania was in a state of turmoil.

In November of 2011, the commonwealth’s most high-profile college sports team and its largest university, not to mention a legendary head coach, were caught in the maelstrom of a child sex abuse scandal that rocked the nation and made headlines across the world.

A decade later, the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal still reverberates.

The main characters in the sad saga are either dead, in jail or no longer at Penn State.

Longtime PSU head football coach Joe Paterno died of lung cancer just 74 days after he was fired for his lack of action during the scandal.

Sandusky, a longtime PSU assistant football coach, is, justifiably, still in prison and is unlikely to ever get out. He was convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse.

The PSU president at the time, Graham Spanier, and two other administrators — former athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz — served time in jail. 

FILE - In this Aug. 6, 1999, file photo, Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, right, poses with his defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, during the college football team's media day in State College, Pa. Alumni-elected Penn State trustees who successfully fought for access to records about a university-commissioned report into how complaints about Sandusky were handled describe it as unreliable and misleading, adding fuel to a debate over the scandal that has roiled for more than seven years. (AP Photo/Paul Vathis, File)

Freeh Report and NCAA sanctions: The independent Freeh Report, commissioned by the PSU Board of Trustees, came out later and concluded that Paterno, Spanier, Curley and Schultz had actively concealed the allegations against Sandusky to protect the football program. It was a scathing condemnation.

More:Ten years after Sandusky scandal, what did Penn State — and nation — learn?

Then the NCAA, using the Freeh Report as its guide, announced severe sanctions against the school and the football program. It levied a $60 million fine against PSU, banned the team from postseason play for four years and reduced its football scholarships for that span. It also vacated all of Penn State's football wins from 1998 to 2011, costing Paterno 111 victories, and put the program on probation for five years.

There was much talk at the time that the PSU football program deserved even harsher penalties.

That is the past.

Where do we stand: Fast forward a decade and where do we stand?

Well, the school and the football program have both made encouraging rebounds, thanks to actions taken by the university to address the failures that led to the scandal.

The entire $60 million was rightly spent in Pennsylvania on programs to treat and prevent child sexual abuse.

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PSU instituted reforms to fight child abuse, sexual misconduct and unethical actions. Today, university officials stress that great progress has been made, including a code of conduct that anyone remotely connected with athletics must follow.

The NCAA was impressed enough with PSU’s strides, including it willingness to follow the recommendations of the Freeh Report, that the sanctions were lifted early and Paterno’s victories were restored.

On the field, first Bill O’Brien and later James Franklin followed Paterno as PSU head coaches and helped restore pride, dignity and success to the once-storied program.

Rising from the ashes: All in all, Penn State has risen from the ashes about as well as could be hoped. An epic organizational failure, which allowed the Sandusky scandal to happen, has been followed by reasonable success in making sure it doesn’t happen again.

However, not everyone in Happy Valley is happy. Many still feel that Paterno was unjustly vilified and there is still a serious rift in the state between the Paterno supporters and those that feel he deserves culpability for the scandal.

That fissure may never be closed.

It can’t happen again: Still, the Paterno legacy should not be foremost in our minds as we look back at the Sandusky scandal.

Our paramount concern should be with the young boys that Sandusky terrorized, and how we can make sure that such a horror never occurs again  at Penn State or anywhere else.