NIU reacts to Penn State scandal


In this Nov. 12 file photo, fans in the student section react after Nebraska defeated Penn State 17-14 in an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa. Penn State was playing for the first time in decades without former head coach Joe Paterno, after he was fired in the wake of a child sex abuse scandal involving a former assistant coach. As Penn State leaves a harrowing week behind and takes tentative steps toward a new normal, students and alumni alike wonder what exactly that means.

By Chelsey Boutan

When Jon Hohnstadt heard that Penn State students knocked over a news van while protesting the firing of football coach Joe Paterno, he said he understood how they felt.

Hohnstadt said it’s great to have free press, but when something negatively impacts a campus community like the Feb 14, 2008 shooting at NIU or the Penn State scandal, it’s hard for students to be surrounded by the media.

“When you’re outraged or upset with what has just happened, the last thing you want is a camera in your face,” Hohnstadt said.

Just over 600 miles away from Penn State, some members of the NIU campus community reacted to the Penn State students’ protests and the firing of Paterno last week, which happened a few days after retired Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was indicted on 40 felony counts of child sexual abuse that allegedly went on for 15 years. He met his victims through the charity he founded for troubled young boys, The Second Mile.

Blaming the media

Senior sociology major Nii Akrong said some Penn State students were angry at the media during the Nov. 9 protest because they didn’t like how the media depicted Paterno.

“The coach was like a hero to them, and so of course they are going to blame the media for making him look like a villain,” Akrong said.

Allen May, general manager of broadcast news at the Northern Television Center, said he feels like there is a more hostile tone towards the media than what he experienced during his 25 years as a television reporter.

“It’s as old as Shakespeare to kill the messenger,” he said.

May said it’s not the media’s fault, but it was the public’s reaction to the scandal that led to the Board of Trustees’ firing of Paterno and Penn State President Graham Spanier.

Firing of Paterno

NIU football coach Dave Doeren said during a Nov. 10 press conference that Paterno’s legendary coaching should be judged separately from his alleged shortcomings regarding the sexual abuse case against Sandusky.

“So, the one situation you’re talking about is as bad as it can be,” Doeren said. “And then what he did as a coach is as good as it can be. And I think you’ve got to look at it that way, as two totally separate scenarios.”

Hohnstadt said Paterno should have been fired because he didn’t report the incident to the police. Because athletic departments are most universities’ top priorities and they are a large revenue source, scandals like this can happen, Hohnstadt said.

Christopher Madkins, Michelle Clark High School senior who visited NIU Friday, said it was a bad decision to fire Paterno.

“Taking his job away wasn’t fair,” Madkins said. “I don’t think everyone else should be held responsible for the actions of one individual.”

Grand Jury’s Report

According to a Grand Jury Report, when assistant football coach Mike McQueary was a graduate assistant at Penn State in 2002, he went to put his sneakers away in the locker room at the Lasch Football Building. The report stated that he heard “rhythmic, slapping sounds.” When he looked into the shower, McQueary saw Sandusky having anal sex with a boy who appeared to be 10-years-old.

McQueary reported what he had seen to Paterno, who testified to the Grand Jury that he told former Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley that Sandusky was in the showers “fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy.”

Curley and Gary Schultz, former senior vice president for finance and business at Penn State, never contacted police and both have recently been charged with failing to report sexual abuse.

“Those officials and administrators didn’t report the incident to law enforcement or any child protection agency,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly at a Nov. 7 press conference in Harrisburg, Pa. “Their inaction likely allowed a child predator to continue to victimize children for many, many years.”

‘Unverified assumptions’

May said it’s difficult to know who is responsible for not stopping Sandusky’s alleged sexual abuse of children. Paterno claims McQueary’s account of what happened was described as Sandusky being inappropriate with a young boy, while McQueary said his account to Paterno was very detailed, May said.

“I think you could make the argument that for 10 years no one wanted to talk about it,” May said. “And allegedly, that conduct continued for years because of that. Already there’s evidence that ‘Gee, if you shout out about this too loudly, we’ve got a community icon whose reputation would be damaged and gee, do we really want to do that?'”

May said he wouldn’t point any fingers at who’s to blame, because the facts aren’t all out and people have varying accounts of what happened. People are making “unverified assumptions,” which causes them to fill in the blanks of what happened without actual facts, May said.

The problem is that the NIU community is hundreds of miles away from Penn State and all people can do right now is speculate, May said.

“Everyone talks about a story like this,” May said. “It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. It’s the kind of story that hits so close to what we relate to as human beings…but until things come out you can’t stop people from speculating, and they will. It’s human nature that people want to understand how something like this could happen…and a lot of folks don’t want to believe that their heroes can be flawed, even unintentionally.”