When the Penn State child sex scandal broke several months ago, I was very outspoken about the role of the university administration in the investigation. I guess the lack of role would be more appropriate, as further research revealed a complete disconnect in accountability all the way from assistant coach Mike McCreary up to the university president. Paterno leaves behind a family, friends, and thousands of supporters who mourn his death. He is without a doubt one of the most popular figures in the history of football, and is regarded as an institution in State College.
The question seems to be whether or not the firing of Paterno, and the unceremonious way that the winningest coach in college football history left State College will tarnish his “legacy”. Does one single black mark on an illustrious career negate 409 wins and over half a century of service to a university and its surrounding community?
When the one black mark involves the systematic cover up of child rape, the answer is an unequivocal yes.
It’s a controversial position, especially in Western PA where I live. “JoePa” is regarded as an almost mythical figure, and there will be a line for several miles at his memorial filled with people who have been touched (figuratively, of course) by the coach. To condemn him is to raise the ire of thousands of Penn State supporters – many of whom regard a PSU home game as a religious experience.
Maybe that is the problem: When a football program is elevated to that level of importance, it could cloud what is right and what is wrong. Paterno is a hero to many, so to even hint that he did something wrong is near blasphemy in Pennsylvania.
To the countless players, students, and families that benefited from an association with Paterno, I would expect nothing short of your undying support for his legend. My contention is that none of that matters to the families of the children who were victimized by Jerry Sandusky. None of that changes right from wrong.
And here is where it gets dicey: By Paterno’s own testimony, he was aware of the allegations brought forward by Mike McCreary in 2002. Jerry Sandusky was still permitted on school grounds, to interact with children, and even had access to the practice facility. By his own admission after his firing, Paterno “wished he would have done more” to protect the innocent children who were raped on his watch.
Harsh on the coach? Absolutely. Joe Paterno was bigger than the university, so the claim that he took the charges to the administration is laughable at best, and a blatant cover-up at worst. Paterno, like the rest of the staff who were made aware of the scandal, put the football program ahead of doing the right thing. Football was put in front of protecting children. Football was put in front of telling the truth. Football was put in front of what you or I would consider a moral obligation.
You don’t believe that Paterno was above the law at State College? The university did everything that they could to fire him back in 2004, and the backlash was so great that they had to acquiesce, and back off – basically letting the coach decide when to ride off into the sunset.
It’s a shame that 46 years of being a great coach is wiped out by one bad decision. Paterno could have done more – like not letting Jerry Sandusky within a mile of a Penn State facility from the SECOND that he heard about a young boy being sodomized in his locker room. He didn’t – and you can say what you want about Paterno as a coach, but I will not weep for his legacy in the wake of such an unforgivable lapse in judgment. I posed the question months ago: If it was YOUR child who was being raped, would you be satisfied with the way Paterno handled things? If it was Paterno’s OWN child being molested, do you think he would have responded the same way?
Consider this: You are in charge of a company, and one of your employees comes to you with allegations of sexual misconduct – how would you handle it? It doesn’t matter if you are managing a Burger King, or are the Executive Vice President of Apple – right is right. Even Paterno’s most staunch supporters can’t say that they think he handled things well.
To me (and I’m sure to the families of the children who had their lives destroyed by this) the “good” that Paterno did does not absolve him from being accountable. Jerry Sandusky was involved in charitable work for decades, and for some reason nobody seems to care about all of the “good” that he did. You know why? Because raping children cancels out just about any positive out there. MOST people lead generally good lives. If you kill ONE person, all of the sudden none of that matters in the eyes of the public. In prison, inmates who are locked up for crimes against children are regarded as the lowest possible rung on the totem pole. To put it in simple terms, even convicted murders look at a pedophile and regard them as worse.
Paterno and his staff picked his legacy, and protecting the reputation of a football program over protecting children.
I agree with you Joe. I wish you would have done more too. You know who else wishes you did more? Every single victim of Jerry Sandusky that happened after you were made aware of the situation.