It is a tragedy and scandal of such staggering and horrifying proportions that it is difficult to comprehend.
Penn State University and its football program are reeling under charges that a monster played, coached and lived amongst them for nearly 50 years. That alone is disturbing enough.
But of greater concern is that when the monster was exposed committing unspeakable acts inside the school’s locker room facility nearly a decade ago, a failure of leadership ensued that is so damning and disgraceful it could bring down the school’s administrative hierarchy and forever stain the accomplishments of college football’s most successful coach.
The monster at the middle of all this is Jerry Sandusky, the longtime defensive coordinator for the Nittany Lions who was once considered the heir apparent to take over as head football coach. The defensive architect for two national championship teams, he is often referred to as a “legend” at Linebacker U.
Sandusky never took the helm because Joe Paterno never let go of the reins. The revered 84-year-old Paterno just a week ago passed Eddie Robinson with his 409th career victory to become the winningest coach in Division I history.
A week later, however, all that glory seems meaningless. Paterno now finds himself in the middle of a storm with support “eroding” and the likelihood that his exit into retirement will be hastened.
Paterno, of course, did nothing legally wrong in regards to the sickening Sandusky scandal that brought multiple charges of repeated sexual abuse on eight boys as young as 8 years old over a period of 15 years. But Paterno simply didn’t do enough to stop a predator from continuing to abuse children.
If you are able to get through the 23-page Grand Jury report detailing acts that make any parent – any human – want to bring back public hangings, you understand that culpability is far-reaching in this case and Paterno shares in it.
When in March 2002 a graduate assistant coach witnessed Sandusky committing an act of rape on what he described as a 10-year-old boy in the showers of Penn State’s locker room, he immediately reported it to Paterno. The head coach then followed the chain of command and reported it to his superiors.
Penn State’s director of athletics Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz have been charged with perjury and failure to report the allegations to law enforcement authorities. All they did was “ban” Sandusky from bringing children on campus. They will face legal justice for whatever role they played in covering up the act and enabling a predator to remain a threat for nine additional years.
But simply passing the buck isn’t enough to absolve Paterno of his moral failure on behalf of Sandusky’s victims.
There’s a simple test to reveal the failure: what would you have done?
I can say without hesitation that if someone came to me and said they had witnessed a sexual rape of a child, I wouldn’t stop at reporting it to my boss. If I continued to see that sexual predator walking around among my co-workers for the next week – much less NINE YEARS – I would not stop at my boss’s desk to break the chain of command to protect other children.
ANYONE would do this.
Paterno didn’t. He did the bare minimum required of him legally and moved along. It is hard to fathom that a man who has forged a reputation for caring so deeply about the “kids” who play for him could so casually have disregarded the well-being of the troubled children who were captured in the charitable net that his former assistant and friend was using to troll for victims.
Paterno was prevented from conducting his weekly news conference Tuesday by Penn State President Graham Spanier, whose own bunker mentality in the aftermath of this scandal is another failure of leadership so egregious it should cost him his job as well.
But the Penn State community at large is not taking this silently and deserves credit for demanding accountability from its leaders.
In an unprecedented editorial that took up the entire front page of Tuesday’s Patriot-News in nearby Harrisburg, Pa., they have called for the president to resign immediately and Paterno to be retired at the end of the season for failing to do “what is right.”
The editorial said Paterno should be allowed to retire with his honor intact. “It might always be honor with an asterisk, admiration with a shake of the head. Joe will have to live with that.”
That might be too generous. Paterno will have to live knowing he didn’t do enough to save young boys from being abused and scarred at the hands of an old friend.
Former college head coaches who knew Sandusky – Vince Dooley and Dick Bestwick – described the revelations as “shocking” and “unfathomable” on Tuesday. Neither would defend nor condemn Paterno, a man they both admire.
But Greg McGarity, Georgia’s director of athletics, mentioned the Disney accountability philosophy he’s adopted.
“If you see it, you own it,” McGarity explained.
Everyone who knew about what Sandusky did to that defenseless little boy in the Penn State locker room nine years ago owns it, and apologizing for their inaction isn’t enough.
They must be accountable and go.