Let's get one thing straight from the start: What's happening at Penn State is not a scandal. It's an atrocity. And the fact that it was allowed to go on for so long says nothing good about anyone in a position of power.
Everyone is, of course, entitled to the presumption of innocence before being proven guilty. Jerry Sandusky gets no less.
But. If even a small part of the allegations against him are true, then every good deed Sandusky did, every young athlete he mentored, every football game he was responsible for Penn State winning, all that goes up in a puff of smoke. His legacy will no longer be that of a beloved defensive coordinator who helped Penn State win national championships; instead, it will be of a serial child molester who dies a cold, lonely death in prison. And even if he walks free, he won't be Coach Sandusky anymore. He'll be the lonely man on a crowded street, the one who is avoided by some and chastised by others. He'll be the man mothers pull their children away from when they see him in the mall. Even if he beats the rap, the perception of him as someone who pretended to help children so he could take advantage of them will linger. That's a stain that will never fade away.
Think back to when you first stepped foot on a college campus, especially if you went to a school the size of Penn State. Think about how scared and lonely you were, even if you refused to admit it. Think about how you suddenly realized that all those people you thought you were getting away from -- parents, teachers, old friends, former coaches -- suddenly became the one thing you wanted more than anything else, because they provided something to cling to. They provided a semblance of normalcy that you didn't miss until it was gone.
Now imagine being a freshman linebacker at Penn State. Think about how it would've felt the first time that you, Mr. Hype, Mr. All-State, were driven 15 yards backwards and planted by a senior offensive lineman. Think about how lonely it felt to walk back to the huddle, hearing the laughter from the offense at how this wet-behind-the-ears kid wasn't nothin'. Then imagine how it would feel to have Jerry Sandusky, Mr. Penn State, come up to you and tell you that he'd seen it happen to Ham and Millen and Conlan, and they turned out OK.
Think about how many college kids he said that to over the years. Think about how many kids he met through his foundation who heard those same words -- that everything would be OK, that he was there to guide them.
Think about how they feel right now.
Imagine being Matt Millen. Yes, Matt Millen. Imagine how many times during your playing career you drew on lessons learned from Jerry Sandusky. Imagine how many times during your -- and there's no sugarcoating it -- disastrous tenure with the Lions you drew on lessons learned at Penn State about overcoming adversity, about continuing to exert every bit of effort you could into making a bad situation better. Imagine how what you learned there gave you the guts to come back to broadcasting, knowing that you were opening yourself up for ridicule every time you appeared on TV.
Now imagine being Matt Millen on Saturday. Imagine having to ask yourself the same question that hundreds, if not thousands, of people asked themselves when they heard the news.
"My God. Did I ever leave one of my kids alone with him?"
Imagine being anyone in a position of power at Penn State who didn't know, who didn't realize that the former coach who still was a regular in the weight room stood accused of a series of crimes that make the stomach turn and the heart race when the details are heard. Imagine how it feels to have the institution you love, that you dedicate your life to, that you believed in as a place where boys and girls came to learn how to be men and women, revealed as an institution where those in a position to act, to protect those who most need protecting, did not.
Now imagine being Graham Spanier, facing accusations of supporting your employees for burying Sandusky's misdeeds. Imagine being Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, accused of failing to act when you were told of an "incident" involving Sandusky and a 10-year-old boy in a shower and accused of perjury for trying to lead a grand jury deeper into the rabbit hole.
Imagine being Joe Paterno and building a legacy of unparalleled success on the football field, a clean NCAA history and, for God's sake, thelibrary at Penn State bearing your name due to your unwavering support. Imagine that legacy being swept away in a tidal wave of claims that you should have done more. Imagine being an 84-year-old coach and finding out that someone you trusted for longer than most of your current players' parents have been alive is accused of preying on children, and you're being accused of not doing enough.
Imagine the darkness falling over Penn State. Imagine the cloud that will hang low over the university for years, if not decades. Imagine how the pride of its alumni has turned to shame, how fans are thinking twice about putting on that Penn State sweatshirt before running out to the grocery store.
Imagine that you could've stopped it. And you didn't.