Why Joe Paterno Had to Go. Now.

There was no other choice. He had to go.

Joe Paterno was ousted last night. After 46 years as the head coach for one of the most illustrious college football teams in the country, after 15 years as an assistant, his record as a football coach was almost without peer. He helped mold the lives of thousands of Penn State students, both on and off the football field. After 61 years of service, he earned admiration as something of an icon by the school.

Even now, I am tempted to say, “No one can erase his record of achievement,” but I can’t bring myself to do that. No matter what good he did over the course of 61 years, he failed miserably at the one job, above all others, that we all have as members of society. He failed to protect our most precious and vulnerable asset when they needed him most; our children.

A few days ago, the Pennsylvania Attorney General released its grand jury report on the investigation into former Penn State Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky’s raping of children. Any of you who think I’m going overboard by saying Paterno squandered his legacy has to read this. We’re not talking about molestation here, which would be inexcusable enough; we’re talking about several cases in which Sandusky allegedly raped young boys, and ruined their lives. If you can read this report and not cry with rage, then you’re just plain cold hearted.  I’m all for letting the process work, and referring to Sandusky as an “alleged” pedophilic sick monster at this point. But unlike Joe Paterno, I insist he stay locked up until trial, just in case everyone telling their story under oath is actually telling the truth.

That’s the point, really. Having spent 25 years working with the formerly legendary Joe-Pa, Sandusky was so “beloved,” and so “admired,” that everyone gave him the benefit of the doubt in this situation, and that’s just wrong. 

I understand the excesses that can occur within the system at times. I was living in Los Angeles when the McMartin Preschool scandal and trial was going on, and that situation was ridiculous; the stories of underground tunnels and sacrifices at altars and the like were insane, and impossible. But the problem with the McMartin trial was that it went on for too long, and most of the stories were found to be incredible even after an investigation, and the DA's office pursued them anyway. But to their credit, authorities DID investigate; they DID err on the side of caution. In the Penn State case, it seems that everyone in the process passed their suspicions on to someone else, and no one actually DID anything.

Which brings us to the formerly beloved “Joe-Pa.” Nearly ten years ago, in 2002, Paterno was told of an encounter in HIS locker room, in which one of HIS former coaches was seen anally raping a young child. Paterno knew this former coach ran a foundation that involved him with young children on a regular basis, and yet, apparently all Paterno could think to do was to tell one of his “higher-ups” about the incident (those of you who know anything about Penn State football, feel free to laugh at the notion that Paterno actually had “higher-ups.”) and tell the former coach to keep his kids out of the locker room. Apparently, that was the extent of his involvement. For ten years.

Keep in mind, this is a football coach who had been at the school for a half century at the time. For more than 50 years, he had taken in 18 year old kids with athletic prowess and molded their young hearts and minds and prepared them for the world. He always claimed to love young people, and he prided himself on having a positive influence on the young men who were left in his charge. Yet, when he was told of an incident in which a young boy was raped in his locker room, all he could think to do was tell his boss and warn the guy to stop bringing kids into the locker room? For ten years? I’m sorry, but if someone told me this happened, I wouldn’t stop until everyone up and down the line investigated thoroughly. If the Penn State officials and police did nothing, I'd take it to the state police, and if they did nothing, I'd speak to the governor, the FBI — everyone would know. And if no one did anything, I'd speak to the press. And I’m nobody. Joe Paterno is not “nobody.” If he pursued this, it would have been investigated.

And it’s not like this incident in 2002 just came in out of the blue. In 1998, Sandusky, who was still a PSU coach at the time, was caught showering with a boy from his foundation, and was admonished by the boy’s mother. After he admitted that he regularly showered with young boys (and to clarify, most of these kids are under the age of 14) at the time. He was actually allowed to retire the next year, and to keep his emeritus status. Authorities investigated and apparently couldn’t find enough evidence to bring criminal charges at that time.

Then, in 2000, a janitor caught Sandusky performing oral sex on a boy he had pinned up against a shower wall. The boy was describe as being “between the ages of 11 and 13.” The janitor told several people what had happened, and everyone passed the buck. The janitor, a temporary employee, reported it to at least two supervisors, both of whom told him to report it to someone else, and a formal report was never filed.

In other words, by 2002, it wasn’t like this guy’s proclivities weren’t already fairly well-known within the athletic program and the school at large. That was when a graduate assistant (unnamed in the indictment, but later identified as Wide Receiver Coach Mike McQueary) walked in on Sandusky anally raping a boy he described as “about 10 years old.” Now, given that Sandusky was naked and obviously unarmed, I don’t understand why McQueary didn't run in there and pull him off the kid, beat the crap out of the man, then take the boy home to his parents. But McQueary was young and stupid and ambitious, and he admired all of these football people, so he naturally went home and told his father what he saw instead. The next morning, he went to Paterno’s home, and told him what he saw.

THE NEXT DAY – not the next minute, or the next hour, but the NEXT DAY, Paterno told Athletic Director Tim Curley about what McQueary said he had seen. A COUPLE OF WEEKS LATER, (again, not exactly immediately), Penn State Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz, Curley and McQueary had a meeting about the issue, at which point Curley and Schultz promise to investigate. TWENTY-SIX DAYS after the incident, Curley told McQueary that Sandusky’s locker room keys had been taken away and that the incident had been reported to Sandusky's foundation. McQueary was never questioned by university police and no investigation of the incident occurred. McQueary was never again even asked about the incident until he gave his Grand Jury testimony in December 2010.

How does the average moral man hear a story about a grown man raping a boy and not be so incensed as to turn over every stone to make sure the incident was investigated thoroughly and the perpetrator brought to justice? The easy answer for me is, I can’t imagine doing nothing, and I am about as “average” as it gets. It’s simply beyond my comprehension that someone with Joe Paterno’s power on the Penn State campus — and frankly, within the entire state of Pennsylvania — can hear about a situation like this and not pull strings to make sure his legacy and reputation was protected. The man was an institution at the school. For 50 years by that time, he'd been held up as a man whose reputation was above reproach; if someone had been accused of something like that in MY locker room, I can’t imagine not pursuing it, to keep my legacy intact at the very least.

Yet, Paterno did nothing, beyond telling Tim Curley what McQueary told him. For a decade, he thought that was sufficient. Even after knowing that other accusations had been made against Sandusky, and even knowing that Sandusky always had dozens of young boys in his care at any given time. To make matters worse, Paterno is also a devout Catholic. How can a devout Catholic, after seeing what such scandals did to his church, not be extra vigilant, to make sure such a thing was never repeated? Why are powerful people so complacent when it comes to advocating for the vulnerable in our society? Do they really think they're "good and moral" just because they would never rape a child? Sorry to burst some bubbles out there, but if you sit by and let it happen, you're almost as culpable as the rapist.

How many children were brutally sexually assaulted by Jerry Sandusky, because Joe Paterno (and many others — it's not all him) did nothing but pass the buck to someone else?

I know it’s corny, but it really does take a village, folks. Children need us. They're vulnerable, and they're exposed. Their parents can’t be there for them 24/7, so it’s up to the rest of us to help watch out for them. We owe it to them to speak up and advocate for them at every turn. There’s simply no excuse for doing nothing when you see a child being harmed by an adult, period.

And that is why Joe Paterno had to go. He was in a position to advocate for children, and he did nothing.

There is no excuse.

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  1. You will be surprised at the number of people who are still in denial. Many have expressed the notion that the media went after Paterno unfairly. No amount of investigation through both criminal and journalism is going to convince them of that. This whole scenario will only get worse as more layers of this stinking mess is peeled away.

  2. “…if you sit by and let it happen, you’re almost as culpable as the rapist.”
    Not almost. Just as.
    Sandusky is a pedophile — tolerating a creep makes you a creep too.

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