Legend or No, Paterno Had to Go

Joe Paterno ... time to go

By Bob Gaydos

The lead on the Associated Press story Wednesday afternoon was straightforward and shocking at the same time:  “STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Joe Paterno, the Penn State football coach who preached success with honor for half a century but whose legend was shattered by a child sex abuse scandal, said Wednesday he will retire at the end of this season.”

At the end of the season? Is he kidding? Are they kidding? Are the trustees of Penn State going to let Paterno, living legend or no, get away with that?

Those were my italicized thoughts immediately on reading the AP story, after following nearly 24 hours of non-stop coverage of the Penn State scandal, not only on radio and TV sports talk shows, but on network and cable TV news shows and on the front page of every newspaper in the country.

“Joe Pa,” the 84-year-old face of Penn State was, as usual, setting his own terms for when he would leave his beloved university. Or at least he was trying to. But this time, Standup Joe, as he is also lovingly known around State College, has no leg to stand on. That he was still football coach Wednesday afternoon was an upset in itself. For him to be allowed to coach on the weekend against Nebraska and then stay on to the end of the season would be the most profound insult to the alleged victims of the assaults and their families and would tarnish even more the image of Penn State.

The issue in this case is simple: What legal and moral responsibility did Paterno, as head coach and de facto king of Penn State, have in protecting young boys from sexual assaults from one of his coaches? Again, quoting from the AP story: “Paterno said he was “absolutely devastated” by the case, in which his one-time heir apparent, Jerry Sandusky, has been charged with molesting eight boys over 15 years, including at the Penn State football complex.”

Paterno reported an allegation of such an assault nine years ago to the university’s athletic director after Mike McQueen, a graduate assistant on the football team who said he saw Sandusky in the shower at the university with a 10-year-old boy, reported it to the coach. Legally, McQueen and Paterno apparently feel they did all they had to do.

Maybe so. That’s for the state attorney general to decide. Morally it’s a different matter. And the answer is clear: No, neither man did all that needed to be done. The assistant coach did not try to stop whatever was going on in the shower. Instead, he called his father who told him to leave. They talked about it and told Paterno the next day. Paterno told the AD. Nine years later — during which time Sandusky continued to operate a foundation to serve underprivileged young boys and continued to be seen around Penn State — Sandusky was arrested and athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz were charged with failing to report the incident to the authorities.

But there was Paterno, several times a target for those who thought he was too old to coach and should retire and now holding the record for most football wins among Division I schools, still on Wednesday afternoon attempting to dictate the terms of his retirement.

It is an arrogance and sense of entitlement that no serious board of trustees can allow to succeed. Paterno made much during his tenure of holding his football players to higher standards, morally, than coaches at other schools. It is part of what created his legend. Failing to notify police authorities for nine years, during which time school officials made it clear they weren’t going to pursue legal action against Curley, was more than a lapse in judgment, it was a profound moral lapse. Or maybe the image Paterno has projected all these years was false.

Whatever the case, Paterno and school officials suggest by their callous disregard for the boys and potential future victims that protecting the reputation of the school comes first and, at Penn State, the football reputation trumps all.

It is sad, it is troubling, it is infuriating. In this day and age, there are still adults who do not recognize that there is a moral obligation to do everything possible to protect the most vulnerable among us from predators — even when to do so may harm other people and institutions we hold close. Sometimes we are indeed our brothers’ keepers.

Retire at the end of the season? No way. Joe Pa should have retired with humility Wednesday afternoon. Wednesday night, the board of trustees fired him immediately. Finally, the trustees reclaimed control of Penn State.


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5 Responses to “Legend or No, Paterno Had to Go”

  1. Ingrid von Hassel Says:

    I was so shocked and so saddened to hear this on the news. To think that this had gone on for over ten years is outrageous. Football was more important then the well being of these innocent children. By not reporting this to the authorities they allowed this predator to continue to prey on young boys. This is inexcusable, vile and downright disgusting. My heart breaks for these young boys who trusted these so called men.

  2. Jo Galante Cicale Says:

    You said it all. This was another example of the old boys protecting their turf. The best thing that could happen is for the donors to take back their money. It’s all so egregious.

  3. Jeffrey Page Says:

    Bob, You’re right without a doubt. This isn’t the time to allow the accused, the involved, and the silent to stand around and inform the university how they will take their leave. The victims here were young children so abused by men who are so debased. I wonder about their futures and about how parents deal with such horrors inflicted on their kids.


  4. Howard Garrett Says:

    The problem is that college sports is so important 0
    that the people in charge run their own kingdom. Too many people forget that the purpose of college is to educate, not spend their time playing games. And they are no longer true sports, but just a business to make money. And on top of that, to make matters worse, playing football leads to brain injuries as well.

  5. Michael Kaufman Says:

    Amen to all of the above, including Howard’s comment about the hazards of playing football. A few rules changes would go a long way towards reducing brain and knee injuries, but that’s another story. Another appalling aspect about the Penn State saga is the shameful outpouring of support for Paterno that erupted among students. Great piece, Bob.

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