|Sitting inside a police squad car Friday night, Sandusky is headed for jail until his sentencing hearing. (US Presswire)|
This isn't the Sandusky column you were going to read. It's not. See, when it comes to big stories like this -- stories you see coming, whether it's the obituary of a dying hero or the guilty verdict of a living monster -- the media plans ahead, figures out who will write what so there isn't overlap.
This isn't the Sandusky column you were going to read. Not from me. That column, the one I decided a few days ago to write if and when former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was convicted of molesting 10 boys over a period of 15 years, was going to be a lecture. It was going to detail the danger of absolute power on college campuses, plead with university presidents and regents to use this horror, this worst-case scenario, as a reminder of what can happen when a single sport, and a single sport's head coach, becomes untouchable.
That's the Sandusky column you were going to read, but that was an idea that made sense -- to me, anyway -- only in the abstract. It made sense before Sandusky was actually convicted, before the crowd outside the Bellefonte, Pa., courthouse erupted in cheers late Friday night. Before Sandusky's lead attorney, the inept Joe Amendola, had his own media briefing interrupted by cheers when he made the prediction, "The sentence that [Sandusky] will receive will be a life sentence."
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All of that cheering makes me sick. It's too much. A single person clapping would have been too much.
I understand the relief that came with this verdict. I'm feeling it too. Too many monsters have escaped too many jail cells because a jury of 12 couldn't reach the verdict they were supposed to reach. It could have happened to Sandusky, but it didn't. So there is relief here, for me personally.
But cheering? I can't cheer. Nor can I pontificate on the danger of absolute power on a college campus, how the worshipful culture that surrounds so many coaches -- not just Joe Paterno -- can lead to lying, cheating, even covering up a g-ddamn pedophile.
That's a legitimate column for someone to write, but not me. Not today. There are myriad storylines to come from this verdict, and we can't all write the same thing. So you'll see stories about the cheering, stories about the football program, maybe even stories about the danger of absolute power. And I don't begrudge anyone for writing those stories.
But for me there is only one story today, and it was summed up by the mother of the man known as Victim 6. That man, now 25, was the victim who testified that Sandusky referred to himself as the "tickle monster" as he assaulted the victim, then a boy, in a shower. Victim 6 heard the verdict Friday night, heard that the
tickle monster would almost certainly spend the rest of his life in prison, and didn't erupt in cheers. Didn't clap his hands.
Victim 6 did show emotion, though. When the verdict was read, he broke into tears. A prosecutor hugged this brave, strong young man. The media wanted a comment, but he had nothing to give. Only tears.
His mother, however, had something to say.
"Nobody wins," she said. "We've all lost."
And we have. We did. Ten young men (the tally is surely, sadly, greater than that) lost damn near everything but their ability to convert oxygen into carbon dioxide. They are alive, but a part of them is dead. What they went through years ago, what they have gone through since -- what they will go through every day for the rest of their lives -- is more than I can bear to think about it. And they're not thinking it. They're living it.
They are the story here. Those victims. That's why I can't fathom the cheering, and I can't write the sermon about the absolute power within the college athletic departments around the country.
"Nobody wins," said the mother of Victim 6. "We've all lost."
Since I began this story with a behind-the-scenes look at the way we do things in this business, let me finish it with another one, with a behind-the-scenes look at the way I do things. Knowing I would remove it when I finished writing, I started this story with a dateline -- that thing we write when reporting from a city other than home. I'm not in State College, but still I started this story like so:
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- This isn't the Sandusky column you were going to read.
I did that for me, to get my mind right, to take me back to the bleakest week of my professional life. I was there in November after the Sandusky story broke, when Paterno was fired and students were rioting and the Nebraska Cornhuskers were waiting. Worst week of my life, professionally speaking. Nothing comes close.
But time passes, and you heal. Especially when all you've done is write about the suffering of others. They suffer, we write, we move on. There's a Super Bowl to cover, then March Madness, and just recently the NBA Finals. Boy, LeBron James sure was good, right?
Back in State College, there were people who don't care about the Super Bowl, who probably haven't cared about March Madness or the NBA Finals or anything as silly as a sporting event. Not since this story broke into their own lives, a date that goes back a lot further than November 2011.
I'm talking about Victim 6, and the rest -- the numbers we know, and the numbers we don't. I'm talking about their moms and dads. I'm talking about people who will never heal, because some wounds are just too deep.
I'm talking about a 25-year-old man who didn't smile when he learned the monster who abused him will spend the rest of his life in prison.
And I'm talking about Victim 6's mother, who spoke for all mothers, all fathers, all victims when she walked out of a courtroom in Bellefonte, Pa., and said the only storyline that makes sense to me.
"Nobody wins," she said. "We've all lost."