Senior College Football Columnist

As Stark knows, Sandusky case a reminder that sexual abuse must not be ignored


Prosecutors say Jerry Sandusky used his prominent position as a Penn State assistant to prey on boys. (AP)  
Prosecutors say Jerry Sandusky used his prominent position as a Penn State assistant to prey on boys. (AP)  

The haunting testimony from the Jerry Sandusky trial won't soon fade away. Nor should it. Unspeakable acts have been described in open court.

Jack Stark is reading, watching and listening like the rest of us. He doesn't need to. He has heard the stories, the anguish, the stifled sobs. Over the last 30-plus years, the clinical psychologist based in Lincoln, Neb., estimates he has treated 10,000 patients. The man is more than familiar with what he has absorbed in the last week.

He won't use her name, but Stark was her best man. Patient and psychologist.

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"A lady was abused by her father," Stark said. "She asked me to walk her down the aisle when she got married. I get a card from her every Christmas with a picture of her husband and her kids."

A big, happy family dealing with incredible pain.

Prior to being treated, "she took a toothbrush, soaked it in Clorox and scrubbed her vagina," Stark added, "then used a razor blade to cut her wrists. You go through 10, 20, 30, 40 people like that, you don't forget it."

Unspeakable and unforgettable. You think it's over if Sandusky is sent away for the rest of his life? The trauma continues for the alleged victims who have had to relive their pain in public. Further humiliation waits around the corner when some sick outlet or another will eventually make their names public.

Then think about those everywhere who are too haunted, too troubled and too psychologically wrecked to come forward. This isn't over. This entire scandal should be a revelation. Suspect anyone. Ask questions. Don't purge your memory of this ordeal if and when Sandusky is put away.

A large part of Stark's practice is sports. He worked with Nebraska's football team for 15 years (1989-2004). Graham Spanier was Nebraska's chancellor for four of those years. That's the same Spanier who was fired as Penn State president when the current scandal broke. The same Spanier who is a noted family therapy expert.

"He knows this," Stark said. "He knows it's wrong."

Married 41 years with two children, Stark has a side business counseling coaches. He has written 10 books and currently works with a NASCAR team. So when the Penn State scandal began to emerge, it jarred loose some memories.

The Sandusky trial won't have an ending. Not really. That such a scandal could occur at Penn State reinforces that pedophilia cuts across all levels of society. If it can happen in the Catholic Church, it can happen in any religion. If it can happen in Happy Valley, well, we've learned our lesson. Hopefully.

"My emotions came out [when the scandal broke]," Stark said. "I've seen that be a problem for more and more of our athletes than I ever knew possible ... I told people I was prepared for the emotional and physical abuse in young athletes, but I was shocked at some of the sexual abuse I see in players across the country. That kind of took me back."

The numbers are hard to quantify. We know that 25 percent of the population suffers from some sort of mental disorder. The American Psychiatric Association has categorized pedophilia as a mental disorder since 1968. But what causes an adult to prey, sexually, on a child? Penn State became a big(ger) story because it was a football story. The sport gave it celebrity. Human failings gave it life.

These alleged crimes occurred during the watch of Spanier, Joe Paterno and other administrators. In his new book The Championship Formula Stark writes that the No. 1 predictor of success for CEOs is their level of moral development. But how do you apply that to the leadership at Penn State? Spanier was perhaps the most respected president in the country. The same goes for Paterno as a coach.

It becomes easy to rationalize conduct when a franchise as big as Penn State football is at stake. Society now is in the process of judging Penn State's failings. Will Mike McQueary work at a high-level BCS program again? Never mind the argument over whether the Penn State assistant did enough when he saw Sandusky allegedly assaulting a youth. If nothing else, McQueary was there. His reputation has been damaged.

Former defensive coordinator Tom Bradley is one of the most revered figures in the profession. Had Paterno left conventionally, Bradley was considered a favorite to get the job. Bradley replaced Sandusky as defensive coordinator 13 years ago. Victim 4 testified last week that he suspected Bradley was "suspicious" after finding Sandusky in a shower with the boy.

We know how these things go. Bradley wasn't retained on the new staff. After 37 years as a player and coach at Penn State, he may do some TV work in the fall.

Economists estimate that Penn State could lose $200 million in revenue over the next 10 years: The damage could range from drops in giving, sponsorships, enrollment and bowl money. New coach Bill O'Brien has done a fine job of nursing the program to this point, but there is that on-field standard to live up to. Paterno's.

Football was merely the backdrop for a larger problem at Penn State. The school failed to catch an alleged predator. During his time with Nebraska, Stark estimates he spent 30-40 hours per week counseling as many as 80 Huskers. 80. It could have been anything -– from trouble with a girlfriend to playing time. That support system made Nebraska one of the industry leaders. It doesn't make it immune.

"I tell people when this first came out, my initial response was pretty emotional," Stark said of Penn State. "That's because I've had 30-something years of treating 10,000 patients and many of them were sexually abused. I've worked with some high-profile athletes, college players who have been emotionally, physically and sexually abused.

"You've really got to have someone to help them. You go through stages. The first stage you go through is shock, 'This cannot be happening.' Second is bewilderment. 'That's weird people who do that, sick people. This is a guy I work with every day.' The third is: 'What do I do now? Who do I call? How do I handle this?' "

Sometimes it's as simple as common sense. Stark says he was once approached by a patient who thought he might be a pedophile.

"I turned him in."

That seems to be any easy moral and ethical decision to make. As we know, the reaction at Penn State was a bit slower.

"I did what I had to do," Stark said. "We've got to protect our youth. I've been down this road. It changes your life forever. I think it's a bigger issue than we realize. Both sexes. It can leave a terrible scar."

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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