As I sit here this Saturday and watch the Penn State Nebraska game, I’m still am trying to wrap my brain around the terrible events that led to children being molested by a monster that was once an assistant coach to Penn State’s Joe Paterno. It’s hard for me to fathom that people like this live in our society. It’s also the first time in my life that I’m watching a Penn State football team without Joe Paterno at the helm.
Growing up in Pennsylvania it was hard not to admire Joe Paterno and all he has done for college football. He was a man who did things the right way in a sport that was not immune to its own series of scandals throughout the years. He demonstrated excellence and integrity in all he did and was an example to be followed. His players loved him and opposing coaches respected him. In fact it was hard to find anyone who had a bad thing to say about him. I actually had an opportunity in 2005 to see him in action first-hand when my wife and I traveled to the Minneapolis to see Penn State beat the Golden Gophers of Minnesota.
Even though I’m not an alumnus of Penn State, Penn State and their tradition of excellence has been a driving force in my life. Joe Paterno’s motto “Success with honor” says it all. The school’s ROTC program took time out of their busy schedule to fly my retirement flag over the stadium during the 2009 Penn State Ohio State game. Joe Paterno doesn’t sign many things, however he found the time to sign a football for me to honor my 23 years of service to our nation. This alone tells me a great deal about the school and the man. 11 days prior to Joe Paterno’s firing you would have been hard pressed to find any one so quick to question the man’s integrity or his judgment. He was on top of the world when he became the coach with the most NCAA division I football wins (409). 11 days prior to the shocking revelations of this scandal you also would have been hard pressed to find anyone in academia criticizing the institution; however in a span of 11 days all things changed. In 11 days one of our top colleges in the country and its iconic coach was engulfed by the firestorm this scandal had become. The school’s reputation is now tarnished and Joe Paterno was told over the phone that he was relieved of his duties as head coach for the Penn State Nittany Lions.
Shortly after allegations of the sexual abuse of at least eight victims surfaced the pile on began; almost instantly there were calls for coach Paterno to resign. The court of public opinion had convicted the entire school and coach. Perhaps the conviction came so quick because of the heinous nature of the allegations. After all we’re talking about a trusted member of the Penn State circle being accused of sexually abusing children. I know how I personally feel about people who molest children; there is a special place reserved for them in hell. I decided to read the grand jury report and the content of it was extremely graphic in its nature. You can read the report here. I must say the more I read the angrier I got and if only a fraction of this report is found to be true then heads need to roll to include in my opinion on a state level. There is plenty of blame to go around for the failure to stop this man.
Our number one priority as a society should be to protect our children from predators like Jerry Sandusky. Based on the report there was an opportunity to stop this monster in 1998 long before Joe Paterno was made aware of the alleged acts of his defensive coordinator. All the right agencies were involved in the investigation of this man and they still failed to find enough evidence to support the allegations. Four years later another opportunity presented itself to stop Sandusky when graduate assistant coach Mike McQueary witnessed this sexual abuse taking place in the showers on campus. He reported what he witnessed to his father and his father told him to report it to coach Paterno the next day. This is where things begin to get muddled a bit. The next day McQueary reported the incident to Paterno who in-turn reported the incident to his supervisor, Director of Athletics, Tim Curley. There is disagreement as to the wording that was used to describe the event, but by all intent Joe Paterno followed the letter of the law by reporting the incident to his superior. There are those who believe Paterno had a moral responsibility to report incident to the police, and I agree with this position. He used poor judgment by not contacting the police or at least at a minimum directing McQueary to report what he witnessed to the police. This is going to get uglier in my opinion, but the layers of this onion need to be peeled back no matter how painful it is. We owe this to the children abused.
In the end that’s what it is ultimately about, the children. It matters very little about a coach’s record or college sports. It’s all about the children. We as a society cannot stand for these monstrous actions or accept the inactions of officials who appear to have wanted the whole thing to disappear; we’re better than this. The reputation of a prestigious school or the record of an iconic coach should never stop people from doing the right thing. If it does, what does that say about us?
I still have a great deal of respect for Joe Paterno. It was indeed a very sad day to see him forced out, but in the end it was necessary. Joe Paterno is Penn State and Penn State is Joe Paterno. This scandal happened under his watch and whether or not he is culpable the school most certainly is and both are one and the same.
Liberty forever, freedom for all!