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After Penn State report, it's time to look at Second Mile

By Roxanne Jones, Special to CNN
July 14, 2012 -- Updated 1603 GMT (0003 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Roxanne Jones: Penn State report implicates four powerful men who failed to protect kids
  • She says they worried about money, fame, glory, turned blind eye to childrens' victimization
  • She says Paterno guilty like rest; now Second Mile organization should be investigated
  • Jones: No more excuses; we must discover whether Second Mile involved, other kids hurt

Editor's note: Roxanne Jones is a founding editor of ESPN The Magazine and a former vice president at ESPN. She is a national lecturer on sports, entertainment and women's topics and a recipient of the 2010 Woman of the Year award from Women in Sports and Events. She is the author of "Say It Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete" (Random House) and is CEO of Push Media Strategies and is working on her second book.

(CNN) -- Sitting on the beach enjoying the final day of a perfect vacation with loved ones this week, I marveled at how beautiful life is. The fog rolling off the ocean a sight to cleanse the soul.

Then I sat down to read the Special Investigative Report on the Penn State abuse cover-up, and I felt filthy.

Pulled back into reality, I was reminded how ugly and cruel the world can be, especially when people we entrust to lead and protect our children fail us. The 267-page report that cites 430 interviews and 3.5 million pieces of e-mail and electronic data tells a story of failure at every level of the university to expose a known child predator.

Roxanne Jones
Roxanne Jones

It is enough to make even the most vigilant among us question our faith in humanity. And right off, it implicates those most to blame:

"Four of the most powerful people at The Pennsylvania State University -- President Graham B. Spanier, Senior Vice President-Finance and Business Gary C. Schultz, Athletic Director Timothy M. Curley and Head Football Coach Joseph V. Paterno -- failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade."

News: More storms looming for Penn State in wake of Freeh report

Joe Paterno and his cohorts failed us all. They let the big money, fame and glory of college sports make them forget to be coaches and mentors, to turn a blind eye to a horror in their midst.

They forgot to be decent men. Instead, they thought they were gods.

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Gods with the power to decide which lives mattered and which could be thrown away. Last month, their former employee Jerry Sandusky, once Penn State's assistant football coach, was convicted of sexually assaulting 10 boys over many years. Somehow these Penn State gods had all concluded that the abused boys were worthless, underprivileged children who were nothing compared to the mighty Nittany Lions.

Sports are that intoxicating. Is there really any greater power in American culture than the Sports God? Even now, after all the negative stories surrounding the games, we want to believe -- I want to believe - that in the end sports is one of the best things about our country.

As a proud alumna of Penn State, former cheerleader and former JoePa fan, I admit that I was hoping that at least Paterno would turn out to be the good guy in this horrendous story. That somehow he was working internally to help stop those boys from being abused and did more than just report an "incident to his bosses." But that is not the case, according to all the evidence. Even his last public words tell us he finally grasped this:

"It's one of the great sorrows of my life ... In hindsight I wish I had done more."

How exactly does one go to sleep at night having stood by and allowed children to be raped and abused? Do you tell yourself that 1,000 good deeds will erase the pain you've allowed to happen? And how can we make Paterno's last words more than just regrets? Certainly the Sandusky conviction and the Freeh report are a good start. But there's more we can do.

It's time for the state of Pennsylvania and other authorities to take a long look at the Second Mile program, its board and all its staff, including Sandusky's wife. After all the covering up around this case, it is not unreasonable to think Sandusky's pedophile playground extended well beyond the walls of Penn State.

Freeh's report already leads us down this path, detailing the questionable ties between Second Mile and Penn State, pointing to a land deal between the university and the nonprofit, an "unusual" $168,000 payment to Sandusky when he was allowed to retire in 1999 and an agreement to let Sandusky's program hold youth camps and other events on the Penn State campus. These were just a few of the activities that went on after Sandusky was first investigated in 1998 when a mother reported that Sandusky had showered with and groped her 11-year-old boy on Penn State's campus.

Showers, it turned out, were a "regular occurrence" at the Penn State facility much earlier than 1998, according to Freeh's report. But when staffers were asked why nothing ever was reported, everyone said they either didn't think anything was improper about a grown man showering with boys or they feared losing their jobs.

News: Penn State review recasts story of Football hero Paterno

Some may say that I'm being overzealous in calling for more investigations; that I'm piling on. They are wrong. If Sandusky's victims and their parents found the courage to come forward and face their abuser and an entire university, then I think authorities are obligated to ensure that the Second Mile Program is cleaned up and that it is safe for children. (In May, the Second Mile sought court approval to close and transfer its assets to a Texas-based ministry; the request is pending,)

If that means finding more boys who were abuse victims of Sandusky or any other staffers there, then that must be done. The cover-up must end. The families who seek support from the Second Mile program deserve justice.

Paterno, Spanier, Schultz and Curley were all family men. They had beautiful families. Paterno alone has five children and 17 great-grandchildren. I'm sure these men worked hard and made many sacrifices to give their children every chance to succeed. So did the hard-working parents who sent their kids off to participate in the Second Mile program.

They, too, were hoping to provide a better life for their kids, one that may have been beyond their means to reach alone. So they trusted others -- Jerry Sandusky, Second Mile and the Penn State family -- to help shape their children into better citizens and leaders. Certainly, those parents didn't believe the lives of their kids were any less precious than Paterno's.

No one told them that "Jerry's kids" were expendable. And that even on the hallowed Penn State campus, they were in grave danger. But that's exactly what this sad story tells us now.

Those of us in the Penn State family need to stop making excuses for what happened. We should be demanding that any and all association with Second Mile program be severed until there is a full investigation of that program and everyone associated with it. The abuse victims certainly deserve this much and so does the University.

News: Penn State leaders 'empowered Sandusky'

"... In hindsight, I wish I had done more."

Let's not have to echo those words ever again.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roxanne Jones.

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