NEW CASTLE —
One of the biggest scandals in college athletics keeps growing.
The Penn State community was rocked once again yesterday with the release of Louis Freeh’s 267-page report. Freeh, a former FBI director who was hired by university trustees, and his firm’s comprehensive investigation concluded that Joe Paterno and other top Penn State officials hushed up child sex abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky more than a decade ago for fear of bad publicity.
It added another dimension for many former Penn State football players, who consider themselves part of a family regardless of when they were part of the program. They were already shocked and disgusted to learn of the allegations against Sandusky, a former Nittany Lions assistant coach.
“It’s quite surprising. I think it’s just very sad to think they had a chance to stop this and they didn’t. I just hope it truly wasn’t because of the (potential for) negative publicity from it,” said Mike Latsko, a New Castle graduate who played linebacker at Penn State from 1983-86 and was coached directly by Sandusky. “It’s still not clear to me who made all the decisions. I think the thing that’s hardest to believe is how did that get past everybody? How do you fool so many people for so long, especially with all the scrutiny that goes with a high-profile program? It’s all very disappointing. I feel sad for the kids and everybody involved.”
The report stated Paterno, along with former president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz “failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade.”
“What Sandusky did — I have two young sons — it’s horrific. He should be punished. If these people at the top lied, they should be punished, too,” said John Wojtowicz, a Union graduate and Penn State offensive lineman from 1977-81. “I wasn’t there and I don’t know. What was actually said and what was told. Who knows? But, it looks like a lot of people at the top dropped the ball. A lot of people and families had their lives ruined. If these people didn’t do what they were supposed to do, then their lives are ruined, too. It’s a no-win situation for a lot of people. If anybody is in the wrong, they should pay and a lot of people will pay, it looks like.”
Nick Marmo, a New Castle High graduate and Nittany Lions offensive lineman from 2001-04, was surprised to hear of the latest developments.
“I was driving all day, so I listened to the radio and all the talk about this. It was nice to hear different perspectives from (former PSU great) Matt Millen and other people — some who were All-Americans and some who were not even associated with the program,” he said. “Being there and having a great experience, it’s hard to believe. It’s also hard to believe (Paterno) didn’t know anything about it and he ran everything. It’s sad this came out. It’s just disappointing.
“I was (at Penn State) right after Sandusky and I wasn’t a part of it. I am not going to let it ruin my experience,” he continued. “Some of the things Joe tried to instill and teach you — now you kind of question some of those things, especially in my position as a teacher now. As a teacher, if I am faced with that sort of situation, maybe I will make the right decision. So maybe, in a way, Joe’s still teaching us. This is a big black mark on him, but he did a lot of good things for the university and the players.”
Despite the latest developments, the former Nittany Lions players don’t want the entire university and anyone else associated with Penn State tarnished.
“My opinion doesn’t change. Joe said he wished he would have done more. A lot of people should have done more. It’s just a shame,” Wojtowicz said. “He did a lot of good things for a lot of people. Hindsight is 20/20. Obviously, they should have done more. There are a lot of good people who went to Penn State and aren’t associated with all of this. So, to have them lumped in with this whole scandal is totally ludicrous. It’s so hard to get my arms around how one sick individual could cause so much damage to such a great institution and all these people.”
Speculation has suggested the football program may face some form of NCAA discipline. Latsko — and other former Nittany Lions — hope that doesn’t happen.
“This has nothing to do with any of those players. It doesn’t have anything to do with thousands of people associated with the university,” he said. “It’s just one guy who committed crimes and others who covered it up.”
Marmo believes punishment is in order, but not for the current football players and staff members.
“People want to give the program the ‘death penalty’ just because of something some old guy, whose picture used to be on the wall, did. This has nothing to do with the kids on the field or my experience. That’s the problem I have with it,” he said. “You don’t want to punish the kids there, but something has to happen.”
New head football coach Bill O’Brien has a tough task rebuilding the Nittany Lions’ reputation on and off the field.
“I don’t know what effect this will have,” Latsko said. “Everything I have heard, everything is well received with how he has gone about it. He’s praising the kids for working through the controversy.”
Added Wojtowicz: “I wish him nothing but the best. He has a big mountain to climb with all this. I hope he does well and all the kids enjoy their experience because they had nothing to do with this. Let them enjoy their college experience at Penn State. Why should they suffer? They had nothing to do with it. This is obviously a huge black eye and probably will take years to get over.”
Marmo has seen O’Brien and the newest Nittany Lions up close and is impressed.
“I have been to a couple practices and workouts. The energy is great. It seems like they are going to keep things going in the right direction,” he said. “They are still getting good (recruits). To me, it’ll be interesting to see how it impacts the future. I just don’t know.
“Penn State is a great place even if a few people didn’t do the right thing. I am still wearing my Blue and White. I am still proud,” he continued. “We’re going to get through this.”