Happy Valley, the documentary (not to be confused with the television series) reprises events surrounding the indictment in 2011 and conviction in 2012 of Jerry Sandusky on forty-five counts of sexual abuse of young boys while associated with Penn State University and its football program. Sandusky, a Penn State graduate, worked as assistant coach for eight years and as defensive coordinator for twenty-two more from 1969 to 1999, when he retired to emeritus professor status with a thank you check for $168.000. He founded The Second Mile, a non-profit program for troubled children, in 1977. Sandusky has been convicted of crimes that date from 1994 to 2008 and involve both university and Second Mile facilities. Written and produced by acclaimed filmmaker, Amir Bar-Lev (Fighter – 2000, My Kid Could Paint That – 2007, The Tillman Story – 2010.) Happy Valley is a powerful and disturbing film.
Most everyone knows the basic facts of the case, has discussed them with family and friends, and has probably come to conclusions on such key issues as Sandusky’s guilt, the firing of Head Coach Joe Paterno, the complicity of the football program, the accuracy of the Louis Freeh report, and the fairness of the NCAA sanctions. Bar-Lev’s documentary gives everyone a second chance to consider their conclusions.
The fireworks haven’t ended. Since the events portrayed in the documentary, State Senator Jake Corman and Pennsylvania’s Treasurer Rob McCord filed a lawsuit against the NCAA to insure that the $60 million fine imposed in the Consent Decree be spent within the state. Subsequently, 16 members of Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation signed a letter demanding that the NCAA release all documents relating to the Consent Decree. The suit subsequently transformed into a challenge of all aspects of the decree, with the result that the original decree was thrown out in January, 2015 and replaced with a new one. Penn State got its 112 football wins back, returning Joe Paterno to the winningest coach in college football with 409 career victories. The football program is bowl eligible again and gets backs its full complement of scholarships.The new Consent Decree focuses on the implementation of rules and safeguards to prevent a recurrence of child abuse. Jerry Sandusky is in prison. He and his wife Dottie continue to defend his innocence. The cases against Curley, Schultz, and Spanier have not yet come to trial. These trials could be the source of new material, and perhaps the impetus for a second documentary, but resolution of these chapters will most likely close the book on the case.
The documentary is much too rich and nuanced to attempt a summary or digest. You will benefit more from watching the film first before reading comments of mine. I’d also recommend reading the Grand Jury Presentment, the Louis Freeh report to the Board of Trustees, the NCAA Consent Degree, and the report commissioned by the Paterno family entitled Child Sexual Victimization, written by Jim Clemente. You might also want to consult the timeline of events compiled by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
My observations will be presented in two blog entries. This one offers four fundamental conclusions that anchor the case and simplify the analysis of the documentary for me. Given these conclusions, quotations and events in the film are examined in a second blog entry from an adult learning perspective. What did participants learn from the experience compared to what could be learned? All of this is as much an examination of the Sandusky scandal itself as it is a review of the documentary. I recommend watching the documentary before reading the second blog entry.
While I have been an admirer of Joe Paterno for decades, and that won’t change, I side with the Board of Trustees in their decision to remove him and President Graham Spanier from their positions two days after the indictment and Grand Jury Presentment against Sandusky were read by Attorney General Linda Kelly on November 7, 2011. I find the indictment and presentment that compelling.
I would argue that officials have a legal obligation, and citizen-adults a moral duty, to immediately report any credible instance of child abuse to law enforcement and child protection authorities. Mike McQueary, a Penn State graduate assistant, entered the locker room at the Lasch Football Building on a day in early February, 2001. He sees a naked boy—about 10 years of age, and referred to in the indictment as Victim 2— being subjected to anal intercourse in the shower by a naked Sandusky. McQueary, on the advice of his father, and after a week’s delay, informs Coach Joe Paterno, who fulfills his legal obligation by reporting the incident the next day to his superior, Athletic Director Tim Curley, who in turn notifies Vice President of Finance and Administration, Gary Shultz. Curley, Schultz and President Graham Spanier meet to discuss the matter. Schultz makes contact with university counsel Wendell Courtney “re: reporting of suspected child abuse.” A plan is developed to talk to Sandusky and bring the Pennsylvania Department of Social Welfare in on the case if Sandusky doesn’t confess. But the plan isn’t carried through, partly because, as a Curley email reports, Paterno had some concerns with it. Professional help will be offered to Sandusky instead. Sandusky is to be told that he can’t any longer bring Second Mile children to the football facility. But nothing happens. That’s the bottom line. There is no report, no professional intervention, no attention to the victim and his health, and no withdrawal of Lasch building privileges for Sandusky. For their failure to report, and also for perjury, Curley and Shultz are later indicted. For this same case, Spanier is later indicted on eight charges after the Freeh Report confirms the conclusions of the Presentment. Paterno is not indicted. He had reported what McQueary told him. He had fulfilled his legal obligation. But he didn’t report the abuse to the people who could have protected the child. All of them should have gone to the authorities: McQueary, McQueary’s father, Paterno, Curley, Schultz, and Spanier, but none did. Sandusky went on to abuse four more boys over almost a decade until caught and indicted in 2011.
The situation is liken to the O-ring contribution to the Challenger disaster. NASA engineers failed to scrub the mission even though they knew the O-rings that would cause the explosion could fail at low temperatures. Penn State administrators didn’t intervene to protect an abused and endangered boy when they knew a young boy had been victimized. That can’t be undone or explained away.
We can therefore can be certain of the following:
1. Sandusky is a convicted serial child abuser (45 counts against eight victims over 14 years.) He had the opportunity to abuse dozens more over several decades, by some estimates as many as 100.
2. Sandusky’s modus operandi involved selecting vulnerable Second Mile boys, ten or eleven years of age, for special friendship and substitute parenting, grooming them with gifts, trips, visits to the Lasch football building and football games, and violating them in the shower or in the basement of his own home during overnight visits.
3. Four Penn State administrators, Paterno, Curley, Schultz, and Spanier, discuss and fail to report a case of known child abuse. Three of them are charged with criminal acts as a result of their failure to protect a child and for lying about their actions, All four are for good reason removed from their official positions within two days of Sandusky’s indictment. Directly relevant to the firings of Spanier and Paterno is the incredible fact that the Board of Trustees had not been told anything about the investigation and Grand Jury proceedings until right before the indictments were announced.
There is a fourth basic conclusion for the viewer of the documentary to consider, an obvious yet controversial fact to people quoted in the film: the Penn State football program, with its powerful presence, pervasive culture, and paternal ethos, made Sandusky famous, employed him, enabled his establishment of Second Mile, supported his access to the university and football facility after retirement, and abetted, if only unknowingly, his pedophilia over decades. Sandusky couldn’t have done it without the football program. The football program gave birth to the monster.
All of this, as far as I have been able to ascertain, is supported by the facts.
Will Callender, Jr. ©
August 24, 2015
Author of Abdication: God Steps Down for Good