Do Penn State, Syracuse Scandals Portend More?
Years ago, Syracuse and Penn State were bound together like a couple of alley cats thrown into a burlap bag. They fought and scratched one day each year on the gridiron and spent the other 364 days badmouthing each other.
Those were the days when Rip Engle was Penn State’s head football coach, and a tough old World War II 82nd Airborne major, Bennie Schwartzwalder, coached the Orange a half century or more ago. Jimmy Brown and Ernie Davis were among the Syracuse stars, while Milt Plum and Lenny Moore were a couple of the Nittany Lions’ heroes in those games well before Joe Paterno succeeded Engle as Penn State’s head coach in 1966.
These were a couple of the most highly respected major intercollegiate athletic programs in the land. But neither one had a kind word for the other. Slightly more than 200 miles apart, Penn State and Syracuse spent years trading verbal venom that matched the worst such athletic rivalry lingo in the land.
It was one of those wonderfully rough-and-tumble rivalries in college football that continued after Paterno became the head coach at Penn State and Schwartzwalder held on to before retiring at the end of the 1973 season. The two institutions seemed forever wedded by a need for each other just as cadets at West Point thrive on trashing midshipmen at Annapolis and vice versa.
But times changed. Penn State and Syracuse, Eastern independents in those long ago days, went their separate ways by joining different conferences. Their mutual tradition broke down when their big annual mid-season football game became a thing of the past.
No longer is there a spiteful word exchanged between the two. And no longer does Syracuse or Penn State have a traditional rival anything like what these two meant to each other.
Yet once again these two institutions are linked as never before in a most horrible and unnatural manner. It makes one keep pinching himself or herself to make sure this repulsive coincidence of pedophilia involving prominent Penn State and Syracuse assistant coaches is not just a bad dream.
But no, the world is now shockingly awakened to a completely new and extremely disgusting violation of human order on campuses where decency and intelligent behavior are supposed to reign supreme.
This is no mere recruiting violation or case of academic cheating to keep athletes eligible so they can continue to block and tackle or shoot three-pointers for the good old alma mater. This is not a matter covered by silly NCAA rules and regulations.
We are now going down a road never traveled before that takes us into a murky underworld of the most despicable of all sexual activities, the molestation and even rape of little children by adult men.
This journey, which is just beginning, may lead us into places we never really wanted to know about. It is doubly shocking when one considers that Syracuse and Penn State were so well-regarded.
Although the two schools are now coupled through this horrid association caused by allegedly similar criminal activity by former assistant coaches, each case differs considerably from the other one at this juncture. Jim Boeheim, the Syracuse head basketball coach for the past 36 years, made this quite clear at his post-game press conference last Tuesday night following the Orange victory over Eastern Michigan.
The two men at the center of these terrible affairs are Jerry Sandusky, the former defensive coordinator on Paterno’s football coaching staff at Penn State, and Bernie Fine, who was an assistant coach under Boeheim for the past 36 years at Syracuse.
Sandusky retired in 1999 but retained the use of the football facilities at Penn State, where it is said he committed some of his acts of pedophilia before and after he retired. Fine was fired last week after three men claimed they were molested by him when they were ball boys for the Syracuse basketball team.
An eight-year-old phone recording of Bernie Fine’s wife appearing to claim she knew what her husband was doing with at least one child was an important factor in the decision to dismiss Fine. That phone recording has been in the possession of ESPN for the past eight years.
One of the three former ball boys told his story to police and a Syracuse newspaper a few years ago only to be rebuffed by police because the statute of limitations had expired, and by the newspaper apparently because he had no corroborating evidence or witnesses.
Speaking of the Syracuse case, the 67-year-old Boeheim said quite pointedly, “There’s an investigation under way. There are no charges. There are no indictments. There is no grand jury. There is no action being taken. When that is done, then we will see what has happened on my watch.”
The claims against Bernie Fine came a couple of weeks after Jerry Sandusky was arrested in State College, Pa., and charged with 40 counts of child abuse involving eight boys going back to the early 1990s. The former Penn State athletic director and a university vice president were also arrested and charged with perjury and failure to report at least one case of child abuse involving Sandusky that they apparently knew about.
Paterno, the winningest coach in major college football history, and the university president, Graham Spanier, were fired by the Penn State Board of Trustees four days after Sandusky’s arrest. Neither Paterno nor Spanier has been charged with any crime.
A 29-year-old man filed a civil suit last Wednesday against Sandusky, Penn State and the Second Mile organization for needy children that was formed by Sandusky in 1977. The plaintiff claims he was abused more than 100 times over four years by the former Penn State coach in the early 1990s.
Sandusky has been under investigation for more than two years by the Pennsylvania Attorney General. She took the case to a grand jury that, in turn, issued a lengthy report delineating some of Sandusky’s alleged acts of pedophilia.
Sandusky’s case also differs from Fine’s in that in at least one case of raping a boy in the Penn State football players’ shower rooms, there was a witness who informed Paterno, according to the grand jury report. No one has come forth as witness to any of what the three men claim Fine did to them.
The Syracuse incident has not reached the stage of arrests or any court action. So far, it is three young men accusing Fine of molesting them when they were Syracuse ball boys. Police and the county district attorney are investigating these allegations.
In addition, the Syracuse chancellor, Nancy Cantor, came out publicly in strong support of Boeheim.
Over the past couple of years there have been a string of unconscionable acts by dishonest athletes and lying coaches, corrupt academic advisers, bribery by crooked university boosters, and a parent trying to sell his son’s talents to the highest bidding institution. These actions have tarnished the reputations of once squeaky clean North Carolina plus Southern California, Tennessee, Ohio State, Connecticut, the University of Miami and others.
We are used to this sort of corruption on campuses around the country. It is par for the course as millions of dollars are the ultimate goal for a winning college football or basketball team.
But all of a sudden those transgressions are as nothing and even trivial when compared with the worst crimes ever to be visited upon the athletic departments of any university or college in the United States. And it did not apparently happen at just one outstanding institution, but at two of the Northeast’s best known universities.
Surely we must wonder just how many more pedophiles are hiding among big-time athletic departments in this country. If the three young men from Syracuse came out to accuse Fine because they felt safe in doing so after the horrors at Penn State were exposed, then it is certainly possible that others might dare come forth with their own similar tragic stories from other campuses.
Let’s hope there are no more such tales of pedophilia. But as Syracuse and Penn State go through their tortuous days ahead, do not be surprised if there is something involving child abuse elsewhere in what is thought to be a real man’s world.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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