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17 July 2012

I believe in second chances – even third and fourth chances – but not for Penn State

By Kevin Canessa Jr.
The Canessa Corner

Tuesday, 17 July 2012 – 

I've lived a life filled with ups and downs. I've wronged people, and I've been wronged. I've asked for second chances – even third and fourth chances – and I've granted the same to others as well. Lord knows, I've survived because of those chances granted me. But there's one spot – one place, one sport, one incident – where I just cannot see granting a second chance. And though I won't be popular among some of its alums (some are friends, some are former students), I just cannot see granting a second chance to Penn State University after the findings of former F.B.I. Director Louis Freeh.

Let me take a step back first.

Former F.B.I. Director Louis Freeh
I really like Freeh. I always have, going back to when it was first announced, I guess in 1993, that the North Bergen, N.J., native was being tapped by President Bill Clinton to lead the nation's top law-enforcement agency. Hell, it's not often one gets to claim the F.B.I.'s director was born in the same city [Jersey City] and comes from the very same county. So yes, I am biased. I like Freeh and I find him to be one of the greatest law-enforcers of a generation.

So it should come as no shock that while I was astounded by what I read, I found it refreshing someone really got to the core of what happened at Penn State with former and disgraced coach Jerry Sandusky.

And when he got to the bottom of things, despite denials from the Paterno family, we learned what we all suspected – that Joe, the patriarch of the family, of Penn State, of Penn State football – was grossly negligent and did hardly enough to help the young boys entrusted to the care of the monster that was and is Sandusky.

One of the reasons, among many, that I decided to no longer teach at Catholic schools – I did so for seven years of my life – and one of the reasons I completely divorced myself from the Catholic Church in general was the way it handled the priest sex-abuse crisis of the early 2000s. Of course, the crisis had long been prevalent, having started decades upon decades before everything really spun out of control. But I was there in the early 2000s. I saw first-hand how the crisis was handled.

And folks, it was abysmal.

What was most disturbing about it all – and this clearly happened at Penn State, too – was that if I, as a teacher, witnessed, first-hand, a colleague of mine, engaged in any sort of sexual abuse and sexual activity with a minor, a student, by policy, I was not allowed to contact the police or the proper authorities on my own. Instead, as it seems happens all too often in large institutions, teachers who witnessed or who were aware of the sexual abuse of a minor were, by policy, only permitted to tell a school chief – like the principal, headmaster, dean or in parish schools, the pastor. That person, then, would be responsible for bringing the news and details to the authorities.

You see, this was PRECISELY what caused these sex-abuse scandals to spiral out of control in the first place – and clearly, the same at Penn State. The men and women entrusted with the responsibility for reporting such news properly didn't do that in so many cases. In the church, these so-called leaders, who failed abysmally, instead often swept allegations under the proverbial rug. In many cases, when priests were involved – which was the majority of the time – they'd often be transferred, or simply admonished. But they'd often remain in ministry.

And they often struck again.

I couldn't understand why if I saw, with my own two eyes, some sort of abuse, I couldn't bring it to police on my own. For the love of god, if I saw a child/teen being abused, not only would I do everything within my power to immediately stop what I saw, I'd be prone to immediately reporting it to law enforcement. I couldn't wait. When kids are being abused, there's absolutely no room for waiting.

The abuse needs to be halted immediately – and regardless of what the policy is, it needs to be reported to the cops immediately.


Not when the principal feels it's time.

Not when the pastor thinks the time's right.

Not when, say, the president of Penn State University thinks it's time.


And because of institutional policies – and because he wanted to protect his own reputation, the school's reputation, the football program's reputation – Paterno kept his mouth shut, deafeningly so. And he says he didn't quite understand what was going on?

What, in the name of the lord, wasn't understandable about what former coach Mike McQueary said he saw in the showers? What wasn't understandable about what numerous kids said happened to them between 1998 and 2002?

Jerry Sandusky's mug, taken after
he was finally incarcerated.
To say or believe Paterno was doing anything but covering up the truth for PR's sake is disingenuous. He was fully aware Sandusky's behavior was criminal and monsterous. And he sad by, idly – and not only didn't he stop it all from happening, he allowed the monster to take his prey, innocent young boys, on to the Penn State campus to rape them. To sodomize them. To rip their very innocence away like very few others ever could or would.

He preferred image over justice.

He chose institution over humanity.

And yet somehow, the statue on "his" campus lists him as a humanitarian?

Joseph Paterno changed lives for many of his players. He turned boys into men. He sent some to the National Football League. He made poor kids, rich men. He gave a lifetime of loyalty in ways very few others have or could.

But he also could have stopped so much carnage. He could have saved kids from having lifetimes of pure, unadulterated hell. But instead, he turned his back. He looked the other way. He did the wrong thing.

A statue paying hommage to Joe Paterno on campus.
Now, just about the only right thing Penn State can do at this point is to tear down that statue to Mr. Paterno.

Because if they leave it up, they're still saying they care more about history and image than they do those poor kids.

And when the history books get updated, let's face it, all that good will and should be wiped away by his awful inactions over his once-good actions.

Because aside from taking a life, there's nothing more abhorrent than taking away the innocence of a young child.

And Paterno's inaction did just that.

And that, sad to say, is unforgivable and unworthy of a second chance.

Just ask those poor kids – the victims.

They deserved a chance to get away from Sandusky, but never could – and never will for as long as they live.

The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the writer. Follow Kevin Canessa Jr. on Twitter @kevincanessa. Click here to send feedback directly to Kevin.


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