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Jerry Sandusky case 'worst moment in Penn State history'

4:39 AM, Jun 23, 2012   |    comments
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By Gary Mihoces, USA TODAY

Last November's arrest of Jerry Sandusky triggered a chain of events that led to massive upheaval at Penn State, including the ouster of legendary football coach Joe Paterno and the university president. The case tarnished one of the nation's premier collegiate athletics departments. "Happy Valley" was rocked by allegations of Sandusky's sexual abuse of boys - and the courtroom accounts in recent weeks of their personal suffering.

Friday night, one phase of the case was closed. Sandusky, once a prominent assistant coach under Paterno, was convicted at trial on 45 of 48 counts of sexual abuse. Many elements remain in what is considered one of the biggest stories in college athletics history.

Paterno was fired after 409 victories and two national titles. He died of cancer in January. President Graham Spanier, a leader at one time within college athletics, lost his job. Tim Curley, widely considered one of the nation's top athletic directors, lost his job. Curley still faces a trial on obstruction and failure to report charges.

Bill O'Brien, an assistant coach with the New England Patriots who had no previous ties to the school, was named to succeed Paterno. The football staff was almost completely overhauled.

Lou Prato, an author who has chronicled the great moments in Penn State football history, was choked with grief after the Sandusky verdict. He got the news on television in his hotel room near the Pittsburgh airport.

"I'm very emotional . ... It's the worst moment in Penn State's history," Prato said in a phone interview. "It's been months. It's going to continue. One man destroyed it. Maybe he had some enablers within the administration. We don't know. It just goes to show what one man can do. One man can be great. One man can destroy and be evil. ... It's a terrible moment."

Prato, author of books such as Game Changers: The Greatest Plays in Penn State Football History and What it Means to Be a Nittany Lion, said he was in Pittsburgh to celebrate his 75th birthday Saturday.

"I came to celebrate in my old stomping ground. How'd I know I'd be sitting here in a hotel watching the national media - I was watching before the verdict came in - continue to trash Penn State? ... It's a tough time for all of us Penn Staters who knew nothing about this."

Does he have hope Penn State can repair its image in the future?

"It's not going to occur in my lifetime," Prato said. "It's going to take a long, long time, and it's never going to be the same. We were different. We knew that 'Happy Valley' was a myth, and we knew that everything wasn't pure up there. ... But we thought Penn State did it the right way."

Prato said he still plan to show his Penn State loyalty on his birthday. "I'm going to wear my Penn State hat and see what happens," he said.

The verdict, cheered outside the courtroom not far from the Penn State campus, brought reaction from around the country and from a variety of sports figures. Jimmy Rollins of the Philadelphia Phillies tweeted, "Sandusky......HE GONE!" while ESPN basketball analyst Dick Vitale tweeted, "Thank God as there was justice served - Sandusky was so so guilty."

Former Penn State receiver Derek Moye, tweeted, "Good to see the legal system work."

At least one child advocate says she thinks some good can come out of the conviction. Teresa Huizar, executive director of the National Children's Alliance, based in Washington, said this might encourage young male victims in general to speak out - and prompt proper responses by institutions.

"One of the elements about this case that makes me hopeful is that it shines a light on a sub-population of victims that generally doesn't get a lot of attention - and that's young boys or men," Huizar said. "I'm hopeful that other boys who have been victimized may speak out, seeing that justice is available to them."

She said those in charge of responding to allegations of such abuse should also take heed.

"I think it really raises the need to take these sorts of allegations very seriously and to act on them by promptly notifying authorities, rather than trying to investigate on one's own or alternatively simply sweeping them under the rug," Huizar said.

Sandusky, 68, faced charges of abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period via his charity for at-risk youths, The Second Mile.

Sandusky, a former Penn State player, coached at the university from 1969 to 1999. From 1977 to 1999, he was the team's defensive coordinator.

In May, Penn State announced it had put more than $1.1 million into its new Center for the Protection of Children at the Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital. The university also said that it had donated $1.5 million in December to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.

"I think there is hope for them to come out of this stronger and better if they actually follow through on the commitments they made in early days to really bring that center to some completion and also to begin a children's advocacy center, which was to have been a part of that," Huizar said. "My understanding - and we've had some contact there - is that they have made some steps forward, but of course we would like to see significant, continued progress in that direction."

Contributing: Nicole Auerbach, Erick Smith

USA TODAY

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