Further allegations shame Penn State
New reports suggest that Penn State sought light punishments for felon athletes
Nestled in the mountains of central Pennsylvania is a place that has come to be known as Happy Valley. Happy Valley, or State College by its official name. It is home to Penn State University, a school of more than 44,000 students bursting with school spirit.
In these past two weeks the once stellar reputation of Penn State football and Joe Paterno has come crumbling down like the Roman Empire. This is largely because of the unspeakable alleged acts of former Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky and the inactions of Joe Paterno and other top university leaders.
For much of the general public, this dark cloud is the first of its kind to settle over Happy Valley. Sadly, this is only fantasy. In the past decade the Penn State football program has been affiliated with a number of unsavory incidents that were swept under the rug and for which high ranking Penn State officials were never held accountable. Instead the Penn State fan and alumni base, as well as the national public, retained the illusion that football, Joe Paterno and Happy Valley were part of a utopian football kingdom that simply could do no wrong.
According to a 2008 ESPN Outside the Lines Report, from 2002 -2008 46 Penn State players were accused of crimes totaling 163 total charges. In an interview with ESPN, Penn State coach Joe Paterno simply responded to the statistics with, “Don’t know anything about it.” He then followed up by stating that the numbers investigated and presented by ESPN had the undertones of a “witch hunt” mentality. When ESPN then presented the same facts to former President Graham Spanier, he responded, “They’re staggering numbers…they’re very high and they shouldn’t be that way,” in a seemingly unfazed tone.
Despite these brush offs, the charges were very real and serious. According to a Beaver County Times report in September of 2001, two Penn State players were arrested for aggravated assault after a fight at a school fraternity party. The report went on to say that a student was thrown through a window during the altercation. In 2000, The New York Times reported that then-starting football quarterback and Penn State star Rashard Casey and a friend were charged with aggravated assault involving the beating an off-duty New Jersey Police officer. Only a few months later it was reported by the Gettysburg Times of Pennsylvania that Casey had surprisingly been cleared of all charges. Against much outrage, Casey was seen by Coach Paterno as “his only guaranteed starter” when it came to the upcoming season. Today, records indicate that Rashard Casey is the Youth Development and Recreation Director for The North Ward Center: a non-profit organization that promotes community outreach initiatives.
Since the incidents of 2000 and 2001, there have been a number of other disciplinary and criminal allegations for a supposedly “squeaky clean” Penn State football program. Highlighting these were an alleged sexual assault and rape by running back Austin Scott. According to Centre County Pennsylvania court records, an examining nurse found that Scott’s accuser had suffered physical harm. Despite the evidence, the charges against Scott were dropped.
Besides the sexual assault and rape allegations against Scott, it was reported in 2007 report by The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, that six Penn State football players were involved in a serious fight. Of those six involved, Penn State star Anthony Scirrotto was charged with burglary, criminal trespass, assault, criminal mischief, disorderly conduct and harassment. Eventually, all of the charges against Scirrotto with the exception of felony criminal trespass were dropped. Finally, by the completion of the trial, it was reported that through a plea agreement, all charges against Scirrotto were dropped in exchange for his guilty plea of misdemeanor count of trespass.
For now, Penn State’s football program’s most recent run-ins with the law before the Sandusky scandal came in a Sports Illustrated article. In 2011 a Sports Illustrated investigative report detailed that Penn State was tied for fourth in the nation for Division I football teams with players who held criminal records.
The criminal element of Penn State’s football program is not uncommon for many Division I football programs. What is unusual, however is that in spite of these arrests and alleged crimes, the Penn State football program has been placed on a pedestal as a shining example of college football and has received much praise from peer institutions and the NCAA. Given that reputation, one has to be worried about what is going on at other institutions of higher learning across the country.