TORONTO - If you connect the dots, and there are many, it is difficult to think Jerry Sandusky without thinking Graham James.
And it is challenging as a Canadian, where we don’t grow up being taught to worship institutions and cultural icons, to think of Penn State without first thinking of Maple Leaf Gardens.
The names may now be different and the circumstances and context unique but the scandal that has rocked America in so many ways seems eerily similar to two of the most heinous and disgraceful episodes in the history of Canadian sport.
Like James, Sandusky made his name and reputation as a coach. He, like James, was considered very good at it. Both worked primarily in small communities, as figures of authority, in protected situations, well known, well-regarded community leaders, really.
Unlike James, Sandusky has yet to be convicted of anything. There are nine victims listed in the 23-page Grand Jury indictment of Sandusky. There are almost certainly more victims out there who have yet to come forward. While the story may be older than the police investigation which began three years ago, it has not in any way been concluded. But what’s clear is this: He used his position of authority, his access, his respect, his charity, his situation, to allegedly lure young boys into atrocious life situations.
And more similarity comes from the manner in which the institutions first responded. While Penn State has long been considered something of a fantasyland, in the backdrop of place called Happy Valley, an environment in which giants are given the opportunity to grow and legends are born: A religious institution not necessarily teaching or preaching religion.
Maple Leaf Gardens was a building. That’s all. At times, champions played there, but the building didn’t produce them, it was simply home to them. The similarity between Penn State and MLG comes not from the institutions, if you want to call them that, but from the reaction to their individual sex assault scandals, in each case before the public was even aware there was anything resembling a scandal.
Before the public was even aware of the ghosts of MLG and the later convicted Gordon Stuckless and John Paul Roby, the owners of the Maple Leafs positioned themselves in a horribly revealing position. At first, they paid Martin Kruze, one of the victims, $60,000 to go away. It was basically shut up money. And when Kruze came back, not necessarily looking for more money, but looking for some kind of justice, one of the higher-ups with the Maple Leafs made this suggestion: Why not hire a private investigator to dig up dirt on Kruze to make him go away?
Kruze eventually went away. He killed himself. But the Gardens’ didn’t do anything honourable here until Ken Dryden came on the scene and made it his business to get involved.
The run-around from Penn State began years ago. It started before graduate assistant Mike McQueary, walked in to the Penn State football facility late one night in 2002 and spotted former defensive coordinator, Sandusky, in the shower violating a 10-year-old boy. Rather than try and stop it then, rather than grab the former coach and pull him off the boy, McQueary, went to coach Joe Paterno. The apparent god-like Paterno. Paterno, who has since been fired after 46 years as coach because of the scandal, went only to the athletic director.
Nobody — not McQueary, not Paterno, not the athletic director, not university officials — went to the police. They will all live with that now and forever.
And for that lapse in ethical judgment, for years of silence, Paterno will have his legend tarnished, and rightfully so. But as Penn State fired its president and football coach Wednesday night, it announced that McQueary would be part of the coaching staff Saturday afternoon when the Nittany Lions play Nebraska. McQueary was the one eyewitness who could have put a stop to this years ago.
But everybody respected the institution, Paterno, what football means in Happy Valley, and nobody spoke up for the kids. Even the student protest Wednesday night was disturbing as the legacies of school, coach and a sport, came before the damaged lives of children. If that’s what’s being taught at Penn State that in itself is sad.
The victims of Graham James, named and not, including Theo Fleury, have had their lives altered forever, and not in a positive way. The victims of Jerry Sandusky will soon be heard from: Their stories need to be told and understood before any real rebuilding can begin.