Sunday, November 6, 2011

Disgusting and Sad: Penn State Scandal Hits Too Close to Home for Me.

As a high school sports reporter and tutor, I’m very sensitive to the well-being of kids I cover and hear about. There are plenty of forces at work to exploit and turn them into commodities and their families into a company instead of a nurturing system. The last thing I want to believe is if someone is abusing them. I have zero tolerance for that and to hear this report from Penn State makes me ill to my stomach.

This is the worst scandal in college football and right up there with Baylor boys basketball covering up a murder and slandering a dead kid’s name 10 years ago. This isn’t about money. This is about protecting a criminal who preyed on young boys and the higher ups in the school not doing more to look out for the victims than a longtime assignment.

Jerry Sandusky, if true, should be looking over his shoulder because he not violated the boys he looked after, he violated the school’s trust as an employee and after he retired, he continued to do his behavior on Penn State grounds. This Yahoo story, be warned, is graphic and disturbing yet informative. (The Grand Jury statement is far more disturbing in showing Sandusky's pattern of behavior.)

It hits me hard because it reminds of a similar case here in California, where a legendary basketball hoops coach was brought down by a similar case and had a similar aura of protection around him.

Russell Otis was the head coach of Compton Dominguez High School from the late 80’s until 2008. He won six state titles and 10 sectional titles. He’s produced several pro and college standouts. But his reign ended in 2008.

That year, Dominguez was riding high having reached the state championship. They had current NBA rookie Jordan Hamilton leading the way and all was set for them to make one more run. I covered that 2008 squad** and thought it was the finest coaching job of Otis’ career, naming him coach of the year in my paper after defeating four Top-10 teams in the state. 

Then that summer, word came out that Otis was being charged with another case of sexual assault. He was convicted in 2009 (that is my story despite the wrong author's name on it) and given a 60 day sentence for meeting a minor for lewd purposes. But this wasn’t his first brush with the law.

In 2001, he was acquitted of similar charges after months of investigation and a trial over him allegedly sexually molesting a player. It was a national story because 1) Otis was the reigning USA Today Coach of the Year, 2) His Dominguez program was riding high with future NBA pro Tyson Chandler leading them to a second state title. The Sports Illustrated story describing the allegations chilled me to my core in high school.

Same issue as the death of Dale Earnhardt - upper right corner 

After initially being fired, Otis was allowed to have his job back in the Compton Unified School District in 2002 by a 4-3 vote. It’s a decision that CUSD now regrets (due to not knowing the trial transcript) but they yielded to their support of him considering how much positive news Otis and Dominguez gave Compton.

Otis won 3 more section titles and a state title before he was arrested again in 2008. It's clear what folks sacrificed to let him keep winning. Otis struggled at first when he got his job back but eventually he was back to winning.

That’s why I’m disturbed that this story happened and that Jerry Sandusky did his evil on Penn State grounds and through a house set up to help troubled boys. It strikes me too close to home and reminds me that evil against children is still hushed up far too often.

Jerry Sandusky being carried off the field after his last game in 1999
Athletic director Tim Curley and VP of business Gary Schultz both resigned under pressure Sunday after being arrested in light of perjury in their grand jury testimony. It’s not as good as being fired but it’s a good start. Neither man should be able to keep their job for allowing this to happen and more heads might be rolling as a result.

When it comes to sexual abuse cases, too often adults act irresponsibly in enabling the scandal to protect something. Compton Unified and a community protected a beloved coach and watched twice as he violated their trust and his players’ trust. Penn State did the same and as a result, this will tarnish a legendary program far worse than any money scandal will. 

Jerry Sandusky is a despicable man and he deserves what he gets. Yet those who didn't tell police deserve just as much as well as any fan who tries to defend this. I know coaches are sacred cows but violating the basic trust a parent has with them is beyond defending and anyone who didn't do enough to stop it deserves to lose their job.

It just reminds me of what I witnessed with my own eyes as a coach's misdeeds eventually caught up with him and how the lives they scarred deserved far more from the adults.

**Full Disclosure: I had no problems covering Otis as a coach. I respected his disciplined approach to basketball and whipping guys into shape. He's the reason Hamilton is a much better player/person than he was early in his HS career. Otis was also kind/friendly to me on several occasions so this is not personal. This is strictly business and a condemnation of what he did that no big basketball win or state title can cover up.**

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