Dave Robinson Sr. of Akron knew former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky for more than 30 years, when the two were teammates at Penn State in the 1960′s.
Robinson Sr. was a senior and Sandusky was a freshman. When allegations of child sex abuse against Sandusky emerged, and when Sandusky was found guilty on 45 of 48 counts of sexually abusing young boys on campus, Robinson Sr. was at a loss for words.
“I knew Jerry for a long time as a teammate and years later at different golf outings and things like that,” said Robinson Sr.,” who was an All-American his senior year in 1962. He also was named the College Player of the Year by the Newark Athletic Club and the College Lineman of the Year by the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association that year. “It hit me like a ton of bricks.”
Sandusky, the former defensive coordinator under the late Penn State head coach Joe Paterno, will most likely spend the rest of his life in prison. Because of the seriousness of Sandusky’s crimes, Robinson didn’t hold back the fact that whatever punishment Sandusky received, it was fitting. “Where there’s smoke there’s fire and it was despicable, the things (Sandusky) did,” Robinson Sr. said
On Monday, the NCAA handed down its punishment which included a banning from all postseason and bowl games for four years, reducing the number of scholarships the program could give from 25 to 15 and fining the program $60 million. The program also had to vacate wins between 1998 and 2011, which came to 111.
NCAA President Mark Emmert said: “Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people.”
That’s about the only area in which Robinson Sr. agreed with the NCAA. Robinson Sr. graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering and always understood the importance of education and the responsibility of being a student-athlete.
“I went to Penn State not just to play football,” he said. “I went to Penn State because it had one of the finest engineering programs in the country, right up there with MIT and Cal-Poly Tech. I went there for my education but I paid for my education by playing football.”
The NCAA’s decision allows players and incoming freshman to transfer without penalty. What would Robinson Sr. do if he were there today?
“I honestly don’t know what I would do,” he said, with a long pause. “I’d be trapped. But I would probably stay there, get my degree but I wouldn’t play football.”
At the same time, it was obvious that Robinson Sr. had issues with the NCAA and its handling of the scandal along with the decision. “They are penalizing the kids who have no control over the situation,” he said.
“The NCAA was at a rush to judgement,” Robinson Sr. said. “I don’t think they truly thought this thing out. The real loser, as far as I’m concerned, is the respectability of the NCAA. The NCAA has proven, if you want to get burned, cooperate with them. If you cooperate with them, they’re going to nail you to the wall.”
Robinson Sr. was inducted into the College Football hall of Fame in 1997 and went on to a successful professional career, where he played on two Super Bowl Championship teams with the Green Bay Packers under Hall of Fame Coach Vince Lombardi and is a member of the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame.
Robinson’s son Dave Robinson, Jr., also played at Penn State from 1982-1984, after starring at Akron Buchtel High School as a safety. Robinson Jr. said he was about eight-years-old when he met Sandusky, through his father.
Robinson agreed with his father about severe sanctions needing to be handed down against the program by the NCAA.
“Something had to be done and I can see how some people wanted the death penatly, and I understand that,” Robinson Jr. said. “Knowing the (Penn State) community and what’s going on, it hurts for everyone involved.
“And if they gave the University the death penalty, the whole community dies,” Robinson Jr. said. “No football Saturday, the hotels are empty, the restaurants are empty. Everything. That’s probably one of the things they tried to preserve. They didn’t want the embarrassment or the economic fallout.”
Robinson Jr. said he would have liked to hear what Paterno knew. However, Paterno died months after the scandal broke publicly.
“My biggest thing is that you never got to hear Joe’s side,” Robinson Jr. said. “He could never speak for himself. Everything is speculative.”
So did that mean that Robinson Jr. thought Paterno had little or no knowledge of Sandusky’s crimes?
“Knowing Joe and knowing the (Penn State) environment, I’m sure he knew what was going on,” Robinson Jr. said. “But you can’t be for sure because he never said it out of his own mouth.”
Robinson Jr. said when he was at Penn State he never heard any allegations against Sandusky regarding sexual abuse among young boys. “He did so much for our community and through his Second Mile Foundation, so why wouldn’t people want to help Jerry and do things for him and his organization,” Robinson Jr. said.
Robinson Jr. was asked if he thought the Penn State scandal led to Paterno’s passing, in some way.
“I’m sure it did,” he said. “Joe used to joke and tell everybody, ‘Don’t let football consume your life. Get a hobby- golf, tennis, fishing, hunting, something.”’ He spoke from experience and he even said if he ever stopped coaching, he would pass away.”
An interesting point Robinson Jr. revealed was that legendary Alabama coach Paul “Bear Bryant” passed away not long after he retired from the game. “I was on the (Penn State) team when Bear Bryant stopped coaching and he died not long after that.”
In fact, a newspaper stated that after Bryant coached his last game, a 21-15 win against Illinois in the Liberty during the 1982 season, he was asked by reporters what he planned to do during his retirement. He was quoted as saying, “Probably croak in a week.”
Bryant died four weeks later of a massive heart attack.
Robinson Jr. said Paterno looked like a different man from the week leading up to a game to the actual day of a game. “It was like he lost 10 years overnight,” Robinson Jr. said. ”That’s what he lived for.”
“And from Day 1, what the coaching staff preached to us was don’t embarrass yourself, don’t embarrass your family and don’t embarrass the school,” Robinson Jr. said.
Tragically, members of the coaching staff couldn’t live up to that simply yet important philosophy.
(David Lee Morgan, Jr., is a former Akron Beacon Journal sportswriter and now freelance writer and author of seven sports books, including, “LeBron James: The Rise of A Star,” and “More Than A Coach: What It Means To Play For Coach, Mentor and Friend Jim Tressel.” Morgan lives in Akron.)