The child abuse sex scandal that has rocked Penn State over the past few days has sparked horror, outrage and plenty of opinion, particularly in light of the school’s latest bumbling misstep to cancel at the last minute a press conference scheduled for Tuesday.
But, more than anything, I have questions. Many, many questions, chief of which is this: Why did Joe Paterno not go to the authorities when it became clear that the athletic director and president and everyone in between were going to keep the 2002 incident — you know, the one where Jerry Sandusky was witnessed by a grad assistant sodomizing a 10-year-old boy in the shower of the football building — in house, under the rug. From the moment I read the grand jury’s findings, that was the one thing — the reprehensible coverup notwithstanding — I simply couldn’t shake.
Why did Coach Paterno, who has carte blanche when it comes to the keys to the Nittany Lion kingdom, not assert the authority, power and influence he had banked during his more than half a century at the school to do something, anything, more than the bare minimum as required by law? In 2004 or thereabouts, when athletic director Tim Curley and president Graham Spanier reportedly came to his house and asked him to resign, Paterno kicked his bosses out the door and continued coaching. Certainly a man who can tell his bosses when he will or won’t step down as the head football coach can go over the heads of those same bosses and report suspected criminal activity, particularly as it involved innocent, defenseless children.
In the grand jury’s findings, one of Paterno’s graduate assistants, unnamed but later identified as current wide receivers coach Mike McQueary, witnessed in 2002 “a naked boy… whose age he estimated to be ten years old, with his hands up against the wall [of a shower], being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky.” After discussing with his father what he had witnessed, McQueary “went to Paterno’s home, where he reported what he had seen.” Paterno testified in front of the grand jury in January that he “called… Curley to his home the next day, a Sunday, and reported to [Curley] that the graduate assistant had seen Jerry Sandusky in the Lasch Building showers fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy.”
The only action taken by Curley and others upon hearing the allegations? Banning Sandusky from bringing children onto the campus, an “unenforceable action” signed off on by President Spanier. That’s it. No authorities called, no attempts to even track down the victim. Nothing, merely a slap on the wrist for the most horrific of allegations.
And, incredibly, no other action other than the bare minimum by Coach Paterno.
Where was the storied Paterno leadership when that victim needed it most? How many more kids became victims because nobody at Penn State, up to and including Paterno, did anything to put a stop to a predator on their own campus, in their own football building, after that incident in 2002 as well as the one in 1998? Based on the letter of the law, the state’s attorney general’s office has determined Paterno did everything he was supposed to. He handed the information he obtained from McQueary over to Curley and others. Morally, as a human being, he, along with many, many others, failed miserably.
JoePa could’ve done more. As a man with as righteous a moral compass as you’ll find in the sport, and as powerful as he is at that university and in that state, he should’ve done more.
I’ve long felt that Paterno, because of the legacy he has built and how he had built it in more than six decades in Happy Valley, deserved to step down, retire, whatever of his own accord when he damn well felt like it. Based on the information that’s come out since last Friday, there’s really only one opinion that can be reached: it’s time for Coach Paterno to realize that the time to step down is after this season comes to an end, if not sooner.
As gracefully as possible given the current scandal and his blatant inaction other than the bare minimum, Coach Paterno needs to announce that this will be his final season — or, better yet, that he has coached his final game — and he will be ending his 46-year run as the Nittany Lions’ coach.
Don’t do any more damage than what’s already been done by fighting it, either publicly or privately. The last season had to come sooner or later. For those that still believe in you, make it this season, Coach Paterno.
The end of a storied coaching career under these circumstances is sad on at least some level. It can’t even remotely compare, however, to the horrors those victims endured at the hands of one of Paterno’s most trusted lieutenants, some of whom may have escaped the predator’s grasp if just someone, anyone had alerted authorities in 2002.
And that’s what this all boils down to: because of the inaction and active coverup of individuals at Penn State University, Jerry Sandusky was permitted to continue preying on children. And, because of this, Coach Paterno and others have forfeited their right to be gainfully employed by a publicly-funded state institution.
“I’m infuriated that people would not report something like that,” the mother of one of the victims told the Patriot-News. “I still can’t believe it. I’m appalled. I’m shocked. I’m stunned. There’s so many words. I’m very mad. They could have prevented this from happening.”
Not could have, should have. And that’s precisely why heads should rightly roll, immediately and without hesitation.
(Photo credit: AP)