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Penn State football needs to be suspended at least two years

This photaken with fisheye lens shows statue former Penn State Football coach Joe Paterno stands outside Beaver Stadium Penn State

This photo taken with a fisheye lens shows a statue of former Penn State Football coach Joe Paterno stands outside Beaver Stadium on the Penn State campus Wedneday, July 11, 2012. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

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Updated: July 12, 2012 11:12PM

I want to hear the silence on Saturdays in State College, Pa. I want to experience the hush of an empty stadium. I want to feel the emptiness as an institution serves its penance for putting a football program above the safety of young boys.

Silence in exchange for silence — that’s the price Penn State needs to pay for looking away as a sexual predator ruined lives.

The school needs to shut down its football program for at least two years. Or, if university officials can’t quite locate their humanity, let the NCAA do it for them.

The Freeh Report came out Thursday, and it’s as damning and heartbreaking a document as you’ll ever read. It tells the story of a university so concerned with its reputation that it allowed children to be molested.

Please read that last sentence again. It’s what this whole disgusting mess comes down to. Coach Joe Paterno, athletic director Tim Curley, school president Graham Spanier and vice president Gary Schultz let Jerry Sandusky sexually abuse boys for 14 years.

And for what? So the good name of a university would not be hurt. Excuse me while I vomit.

That good name and that university are so contaminated right now it would take workers in hazmat suits to clean it all up. In lieu of that, we’ll have to settle for more realistic solutions:

◆ Long prison terms for those who failed the children. Spanier, Schultz and Curley — all of them in inmate coveralls.

◆ The suspension of a football program for a school that knowingly allowed the abuse to continue for years.

◆ The destruction of the campus statue honoring a coach who was more worried about protecting his program’s reputation than protecting victims from a monster.

A school that guarded the powerful at the expense of young boys deserves punishment, even if there is collateral damage. And what would hurt most to throngs of see-no-evil Nittany Lions fans would be a Beaver Stadium devoid of sound on fall afternoons.

Silence for silence.

Sandusky will spend the rest of his life rotting in a prison cell and pondering the afterlife. But the people who could have and should have stopped him also deserve cots in a federal penitentiary.

Since the scandal broke in November, many of the Penn State faithful have insisted that the iconic Paterno didn’t know the extent of Sandusky’s actions. The Freeh Report scrubbed away that lie, making it clear that Paterno not only knew Sandusky had been accused of molesting boys but hid information from authorities.

The report, which was prepared by former FBI director Louis Freeh, said Paterno wasn’t alone in the coverup.

“In order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at the university — Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley — repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse,’’ according to the report.

It’s illegal in Pennsylvania to not report a crime to law-enforcement officials. It now seems clear that’s exactly what Penn State officials did after graduate assistant Mike McQueary told Paterno he witnessed Sandusky raping a boy in a school shower in 2001. It’s the reason Spanier and the others should go to prison. The only thing preventing Paterno from getting the same treatment is that he’s dead. He might be the lucky one.

Sandusky’s abuse of boys went on for 14 years, and the people who could have stopped it didn’t. It’s impossible to move past that. It’s impossible to look at the Freeh Report and believe that this outrage is anywhere close to being over. Punishment needs to be meted out to all involved.

An institution of higher learning has to do its penance and cleanse itself of the filth that went on inside and outside its buildings. That means no football. It doesn’t matter if some of the people now running the show had nothing to do with the criminal disregard of their predecessors. It doesn’t matter if current players had nothing to do with the scandal.

Two years without football will allow a university to ponder how a program could become so monolithic that it needed to be protected at all costs — even at the cost of childhood, innocence and a chance at a normal life. Two years. That’s a small price to pay for such big sins.

In the silence of Saturdays, you might hear the faint screams of boys who had been looking for adults to rescue them. And found none.

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