A man won my heart this week and helped to save my soul. Just when I was in danger of losing hope in humanity, being dragged through the dregs of aberrant, predatory behavior in the Penn State saga, this gent taught me that it is possible to preserve decency. His name is James “Jim” Durant and I salute him today. Folks like him made America great and I only pray we can find enough of his kind to sustain us in the future.
The story from Penn State is a horror show, a menagerie, a bizarrerie, a grotesquerie, but it has been encapsulated in a supremely readable form by the recorder of Grand Jury proceedings in Pennsylvania. There are a lot of gritty details which need not concern us, but we need to recognize the key elements of the corruption which reigned here for much too long.
The football programs at the major universities are always treasured by students, alumni and the residents of the nearby towns and cities. This is much more true of those colleges where a degree of competitive success has been consistently achieved over a period of years. These include schools like Ohio State, Nebraska, Alabama, Louisiana State (LSU) and Penn State.
The latter school always provided fodder for punsters, who were wont to say that the players are roughnecks who might otherwise belong in the state pen. As it turns out, it is the school administration which may convene its next session in a prison cell. It was they, ostensibly purveyors of instruction, who wreaked destruction upon impressionable children. Some sinned by commission, some by omission, some by looking away, some by looking past, some to satisfy their appetites and some to protect their positions.
The legendary presence in the Penn State locker room is Coach Joseph Paterno, known as Joe Pa, today an octogenarian after six decades on the job. Many of his disciples went on to succeed at professional football but many more went on to succeed in other walks of life. Ask any one of them and they will tell you that the lessons of passion and discipline they learned from the coach was integral to their development of strong character.
Joe had a sidekick named Sandusky, who was long heralded as the potential successor to the old man. In 1998, a complaint was filed with the Campus Police accusing Sandusky of pedophilia. In 1999, he was relieved of his duties. They tell us, do the powers that were, that the second event was not precipitated by the first, that they did not believe the complaint to have involved actual intercourse with 10-year-old boys, merely inappropriate familiarity in the shower stalls.
The Grand Jury says they are lying and indicts them as perjurers. These administrators knew all along that Sandusky had been witnessed in the act by a very reliable graduate assistant coach. They knew that this man was using the panache of his access to the mythos of the Penn State team to lure young boys, under the pretense of mentoring them, into being physically violated and morally compromised. Their cowardice and their addiction to privilege led these administrators, from the College President on down, to exercise their oversight with a blind eye.
Reading the Grand Jury report brought me to tears, to heartache and to a weighty pall of hopelessness. Here were all these people who were looked up to by the society, who lived their daily lives amid the trappings of fame and wealth, who cloaked themselves in the mantles of education and philanthropy, who were given the chance to lead BIGGER lives than their peers. Instead they chose to be small, to be servants of impulse, governed by whim and appetite and sensation, eschewing nobility and achievement and transcendence.
But just as I was ready to “abandon hope, ye who enter here” the Grand Jury report, in its very last pages, introduced me to Jim Durant. A simple, solid American, a veteran of the Korean War, who went to clean the shower room and saw an evil middle-aged man having sex with a 10-year-old boy. He became so distraught, the report says, that the rest of the custodial staff feared he would have a heart attack on the spot. Here is what he said: “I was in the Korean War, I saw people with their bodies blown up dying all around me… but I never saw something this bad in all my life.”
You see, my friends, Jim Durant is a real teacher and we should be proud if we can earn a degree in his school. This is how a human being should think and act, and this is what it ought to mean to be an American. The hard knocks in his life, the devastation of war, the demanding work ethic of less-skilled labor, did not cost him his innocence. He still knows evil when he sees it and he cannot be deterred. He is the hero of Penn State.