With no explanation for inaction, Joe Paterno must go now
Joe Paterno didn't break any laws, but his inaction was a terrible failure
His wins total is irrelevant if his behavior allowed a monster to hurt kids
Paterno needs to go now, not days or weeks or months down the road
Words in standard type are the thoughts of a person attempting to evaluate every side of the story involving Penn State coach Joe Paterno's role in the case involving former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
Words in italics are the thoughts of a father of two young children, who, like most parents, read the news of what allegedly took place at Penn State and wondered "What if this had happened to one of my kids?"
Paterno didn't break any law. Officially speaking, he did exactly what was required when a graduate assistant told him in 2002 that he had witnessed Sandusky sexually abusing a boy (estimated age: 10) in a shower at the Penn State football complex. Paterno told his boss, athletic director Tim Curley. Paterno followed proper procedure. And doesn't he deserve the benefit of the doubt? For years, Paterno has been a paragon of athletic virtue. He has won a Division I-record 409 games, yet his program has never been cited for a major NCAA violation. Sandusky maintains his innocence. As does Curley, who has been charged with perjury. They'll get their day in court.
Pure B.S. Paterno claims to be a teacher. He always talks about his kids when referring to his players. Someone who truly cared about kids would have done more. He would have pestered Curley for an answer about what happened to the accusation. He would have called the police. He would have confronted Sandusky. Instead of that, Paterno let Sandusky keep coming back. On Monday, Yahoo! reported that Sandusky was spotted in the Penn State football complex as recently as last week. Even if the accusation was false, Paterno had a responsibility to make sure it was thoroughly investigated. He didn't. He stuck by Sandusky instead of worrying about the child.
I waited several days to write this because my first thought was what I would do if someone did something like this to my child. My initial reaction -- and I'm fairly certain most parents would feel this way -- was homicidal. If someone molested my child, he would need the police to protect him from me. If I found him first, his death would be neither quick nor clean. I might spend the rest of my life in prison, though I'm not sure a right-thinking jury would convict me. Those were the first thoughts that popped into my head, and I'm not ashamed to say that. So why didn't Paterno, a parent and grandparent who claims to have dedicated his life to the kids, feel the same way? Why didn't he do everything in his power to ensure he helped protect a kid who couldn't protect himself? I thought if I waited a few days I could look at the situation through a more rational lens. I can't. Every time I think about it, I get more angry. And I pray that I can protect my kids from the monsters, because apparently not everyone feels the same responsibility. If Paterno would sit silently for years about this, he has no business representing a proud university. Fire him now, not in days or weeks as The New York Times is reporting. I don't give a damn how many games he's won.
Paterno released a statement Sunday night saying the graduate assistant was distraught and did not describe the specific act mentioned in the grand jury presentment. Maybe Paterno didn't grasp the seriousness of the allegation. Maybe he didn't understand.
Or maybe Paterno has hidden behind a wall of lawyer-speak because he knows he failed in his duty as a human being. Maybe that's why Penn State President Graham Spanier -- who also needs to be fired for the same reason as Paterno -- canceled Paterno's regularly scheduled press conference Tuesday. Paterno can't stand up to tough questions, because he has no moral leg on which to stand. If no one had made an accusation, it would be completely believable that Paterno didn't know. His inaction would make sense.
But someone did tell Paterno, and Paterno has admitted to that. According to the grand jury, Paterno testified that the graduate assistant reported seeing Sandusky "fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy." Those are the exact words from the presentment, but they are not an exact quote from Paterno. Grand jurors clearly came away thinking Paterno -- a man not known for mincing words -- had heard a report of sexual activity between a grown man and a young boy. Setting aside what the graduate assistant actually reported to the grand jury -- an act so heinous that the mere mention of it should cause any normal person to retch -- exactly how extensive a report of sexual activity does Paterno need to do the right thing and make sure the report gets investigated thoroughly? No one gets a little bit fondled. Beyond that, a grown man and a young boy were naked together in a shower. That isn't normal. That requires an inquiry. Yet Paterno did nothing except kick the accusation upstairs. In this case, "upstairs" is a relative term. Curley was nominally Paterno's boss, but Paterno has long been the most powerful man on Penn State's campus. If Paterno wanted the claim investigated, he could have made an investigation happen. He didn't.
Still, we need to wait until the facts come out before judging Paterno. Maybe there is some reasonable, rational explanation for his silence. Can I honestly say that I would go to the police if a subordinate reported something like that to me about a longtime friend? Which person would I believe?
Remember that we're talking about a 10-year-old. Someone's son who stands no chance to live a normal life. And let's not forget anyone else who might have been harmed in the years between the graduate assistant's report and Sandusky's arrest. If the charges against Sandusky are true, any molestation that took place between the graduate assistant's report and Sandusky's arrest is on the hands of everyone who knew. That includes Paterno.
Forget it. There is no defense. There is no rational explanation. I hope, if placed in the same situation, I would protect the child. If I didn't, may God have mercy on my soul.
The Penn State alma mater includes this line: "May no act of ours bring shame." Someone wrote those words on a poster Monday and hung them from a statue of Paterno on Penn State's campus. If Sandusky pleads guilty or is convicted of these accusations, that statue of Paterno should be torn down.
Paterno has won 409 games. He has helped usher thousands of young men into adulthood. But if Paterno's inaction allowed a monster to continue preying on children, those victories don't mean a thing.