Several years ago I was sitting quietly in a training class, listening to the instructor discuss the psyche of sex offenders. The lecturer, a psychiatrist at a state penitentiary, led a discussion that became an abhorrent descent into the mind of a pedophile.
At its completion it left me distraught. As contemptible as this topic was, it should have been required instruction for any journalist who took allegations of a serial child rapist and warped it into “Joe Paterno’s Sex Scandal.”
That media frenzy has long-since eclipsed reports of child rape involving Penn State football’s defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky. Instead, like a moth to the flame, the media has elevated Paterno’s involvement to preeminence. His lengthy career, his recent firing, and the outcry from an enraged fan base are the flaming results of this media-sponsored bonfire.
Let’s be clear. Paterno is not the issue here. In fact, given the shocking nature of these alleged acts, Paterno’s involvement is largely irrelevant.
Yes, there are indeed allegations of cover-ups. There are claims that many involved, including Paterno, could have done more to bring the matter to light. But blatant testimony currently points to only one individual, a person whose name is mentioned only as afterthought in most of the story coverage.
It is not Joe Paterno. That person is Jerry Sandusky.
The current media blitz is one of the more embarassing examples of journalists skewing the focus of a news story for the purpose of packaging a product. Let’s face it, if Jerry Sandusky were the head coach of a small college football program rather than the assistant to one of the sport’s most legendary figures, then the details may have never risen beyond the level of local news.
Instead, television and print media have chosen to downplay the real story. That one involves allegations that a lesser known figure, Sandusky, used his relatively prominent position to gain the trust of parents and children. In a leadership role, he is then alleged to have abused that trust by raping and violating an unknown number of innocent children.
The real story also involves the courageous disclosures made by the alleged victims and their parents. Forced to rehash what is likely the worst moment of their lives, the victims now are shuffled off backstage as the spotlight centers on the possible transgressions of Paterno, no more than a bit player in this tragedy.
The media’s critics are always quick to point out its faults: self-serving; left-leaning; hype-driven. Splashy and sensational news sells papers, they say. In this case the critics would be right.
The story of a serial rapist prowling the locker rooms of Penn State, and the community of State College, PA, is a story worth telling. It is a reminder that pedophiles can have normal, even respectable faces. It is a reminder that these monsters will often prey on our children from a vantage of trust. And it is a reminder that each of us has a duty to protect the most innocent among us.
Those are the bullet points in the story of Joe Sandusky, alleged child rapist.
If you want to read about Joe Paterno, you should flip to the sports page.