Friday, August 14, 2015
"Happy Valley", a straightforward and painful documentary of the child abuse scandal connected to Penn State football
“Happy Valley” (2014), directed by Amir Barl-Lev, is a rather straightforward, if sobering, documentary of the child abuse sex scandal perpetrated by assistant football coach, for the Penn State Nittany Lions, Jerry Sandusky, sentenced in October 2012 to 30-60 years in prison, starting at age 68, ensuring pretty much that he will die in prison. Wikipedia has a factual history here. The bluntness if Wikipedia’s biography of Sandusky is striking to read.
Much of the film focuses on the sudden fall of former head coach Joe Paterno, who would be fired (before being allowed to resign) and stripped of all honors, and then die two months later of lung cacer at 85, an unnecessarily gratuitously ugly end to a career and life. Three other school officials were charged with perjury and obstruction of justice as part of the “coverup”, and Penn State’s athletic department would wind up with severe sanctions. There was a kind of mob justice mentality. Yet some ( a vocal minority of) people would object to McQueary’s reporting of what he saw, out of a curious “loyalty” to the school and football.
Paterno had been told by graduate student assistant coach by Mile McQueary in 2002 that the latter had witnessed a direct assault. Paterno always maintained that he reported the incident, but was accused of failing to follow up. There were reasons to believe Paterno already knew or suspected of Sandusky’s misconduct with boys back into the 1990s. Sandusky had misused his charity “The Second Mile” as a cover for his activity.
The film is surprisingly “real time”. At one point, the director tries to interview Sandusky (well before trial) at his home, who has been ordered by his lawyer to remain mum.
At the time of the incident, the media made a lot of Sandusky’s equivocation when asked if he was “sexually attracted” to his minor victims (who apparently were usually or always too young for puberty). Why couldn’t he “just say no”, Toobin would ask on CNN, calling this a “horrible case”.
The film, especially toward the end, does provide a moral indictment of the world of college athletics and especially football, which provide so much income for schools and put so much pressure on head coaches to win. This would fit in with Malcolm Gladwell’s “moral objections” to football (issues blog, July 21, 2013).
The other noteworthy observation seems to be the difficulty of “reaching out” to “kids” without creating suspicion, because “examples” set in the past by Sandusky.
The trailer starts, “We all want to think we live in a better world than we do.”
The official site is here (Music Box). The film may be watched on Netflix instant play.
I visited Penn State in September 2010, after the scandal was known but before the trial. I was actually curious about the law school, because a Penn State professor had written a controversial paper about filial responsibility laws, and we corresponded by email a bit then (Retirement blog, July 12, 2007).