Last Modified: Thursday, July 12, 2012 7:00 PM
The real tragedy of the Penn State scandal is that it could have been prevented.
It should have been prevented.
Maybe not all of it, but a good portion of it.
What was revealed in the Freeh Report released Thursday was the fact that people in authority knew what was going on. Knew about it for a long time.
They knew the demons that lurked inside Jerry Sandusky and they chose not to act on their knowledge.
More than a decade of sexual abuse followed. More children were put at risk. More damage was done to a community that trusted the very men who turned their back on the truth.
Those in charge, including legendary football coach Joe Paterno, made a conscious decision to put the image of the football program and university ahead of those young victims.
By protecting a brand name and not helpless children, they have forever tarnished the very legacy they tried to protect.
It seems we keep learning from the same mistakes. It is always the cover-up that gets you.
Penn State officials should have known better. The report seems to show that some wanted to report Sandusky only to be talked out of it by others.
So they too became villains. This when these men could have been true heroes and put an end to Sandusky’s reign of terror.
Why they made their decisions is mind-boggling.
They, especially Paterno, were the most powerful men on campus. They set the tone that followed.
If they had taken the right steps, they could have proven to be the leaders they claimed to have been. Instead, they chose a path of destruction and by doing so became accomplices in every crime Sandusky committed afterward.
In one way it would be easier to say they were too loyal to Sandusky, or just blind to how deep the troubles at their school really were. But the Freeh Report seems to make it clear it was much more sinister than that.
The report contends these men were driven by the greed of a good thing. Not one of them felt these young boys were worth rocking the big-money boat that is Penn State football.
There is a lesson to be learned from this ugliness.
Penn State may be at the top of the mountain when it comes to college football programs out of control, but it is clearly not alone.
This tragedy could have taken place at any number of universities that have long since sold their souls to the cash cow that is big-time college football.
It is what happens when you turn college coaches into icons and players into superstars.
They are neither.
Yet we continue to put our sports stars above the rest, and often above the law. They are given second, third and fourth chances because they run faster, hit harder or more importantly, bring money into the program.
Nobody at Penn State was bigger than Paterno and nobody had the power to stop Sandusky other than him. Yet it now seems he wanted to protect what he had built rather than protect a few kids he may not have known at all.
However, the real problem is that there was nobody around willing to tell Paterno he was wrong. Nobody was willing to stand up to the national icon and tell him the school was going to do the right thing and let the chips fall where they may.
While fingers firmly remain pointed at Penn State, this would be a good time for other schools to take a long look in the mirror and ask what would happen on their campus if a situation like this arose.
Nobody has more power at LSU than Les Miles, or at Alabama than Nick Saban. You would hope that these men, if put in a tough position, would do the right thing. But, you never know.
There is great pressure by the colleges, by the fans and by the media for them to win. Nothing else matters.
It is what we have created. We have told these folks they are more important than the history professor or the honor student studying to become a doctor.
We have at least helped create the monster.
Some are calling for all of Paterno’s records to be wiped out of the Penn State record books, that his statue outside Beaver Stadium be yanked down and the school not play football this fall.
Those are just after-the-fact gestures that will do little to change anything.
What we really need is to hold our athletes and their bosses accountable for all that happens within their programs. We need to tell them they are no better than anybody else. We need to tell our athletes that going to class and getting good grades are just as important as their time in the 40.
We need to put college football — in fact all of college sports — back into perspective.
However, that is not about to happen when the stadiums remain filled on Saturdays and the coaches continue to earn millions of dollars.
The stakes are too high.
Still, it is up to us to make the Penn State story the ending and not just the beginning.
Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at email@example.com