Joe Paterno Must Step Down
The mumble throughout the college football ranks this fall has been that Joe Paterno and his staff are coaching their final seasons at Penn State. Even if the Nittany Lions were to win the Big Ten, capture the Rose Bowl and finish with a top-five ranking, JoePa would be out, according to reports. He would be replaced by Urban Meyer. Or Al Golden. It wasn’t idle chatter. This was serious business.
After the events of the past two days, there can be no other way. Paterno is finished at Penn State.
It must happen. And it has nothing to do with whether the soon-to-be 85-year-old is fit to prowl the sideline on game days. (Or sit in the press box.)
Even if he did “do his job,” in 2002 by reporting what he heard from then-graduate assistant coach Mike McQueary about the disgusting, monstrous alleged crimes committed by former PSU defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, Paterno deserves an escort to the exit. He did what he was supposed to, all right, but he didn’t do anything else. He didn’t make sure Sandusky would not have access to Penn State’s facilities. He didn’t check to see if athletic director Tim Curley was pursuing the matter after Paterno told him. He didn’t call the police. The most powerful man in Happy Valley, a man who was able to tell Curley and school president Graham Spanier a few years ago that he would leave his position when he was damn well ready, made a perfunctory gesture that smacked of self preservation and then removed himself from the situation. In other words, he acted just like any other college football coach would have. And that’s not good enough, especially for a man who, for decades, has comported himself as an oasis of character in college football’s scorpion-filled desert.
Sandusky’s alleged odious assaults—including sex with a 10-year-old boy in the shower on campus!—stain the entire PSU community, and for Paterno to have knowledge and do nothing more than pass it along the chain of command, as if it were a meaningless misdemeanor, is unforgivable. This is a football coach who has more power and influence at a university (and rightly so, given his service to Penn State) than any other person in his profession. Had he removed Sandusky from the Penn State picture in 2002 (Sandusky resigned from coaching in 1999 but maintained an office at Penn State and continued to have free run of the facilities), when he heard of the alleged crime, he would have saved other victims on whom Sandusky allegedly preyed–under the guise of his Second Mile charity, formed in 1977 to assist troubled boys from broken homes. Instead, Paterno did the minimum.
Sunday night, Curley and Gary Schultz, the school’s interim senior VP for business and finance, stepped aside. Curley will take “administrative leave,” while Schultz is returning to retirement. If the charges brought by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office stick, the men should never be allowed on campus again. Their alleged lies allowed Sandusky to continue an alleged pattern of foul behavior on boys who looked to him and his Second Mile for safe haven against a world that seemed aligned against them. Instead of support, the charges say, the boys were horrifically abused.
Of course, the big fish in all of this is Paterno. Had these allegations not surfaced, he would have been able to finish what has been a successful season thus far and–if the talk has been true–conclude his time at Penn State in fine fashion. (Provided the Nittany Lions survive a season-ending stretch that includes games with Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin.) Now, there can be no other way but to start a new chapter in Penn State’s football history. And it will be done without the kind of warm feelings that should surround Paterno’s ride into the sunset. These disgusting allegations have soiled Penn State and Paterno. By doing the minimum at a time when one of his one-time lieutenants was being accused of awful crimes, Paterno has given the impression that he was trying to protect his program, rather than making sure Sandusky was removed from campus and more victims were spared.
Obviously, Paterno has no direct culpability in this. And it appears he was forthright when he spoke with the grand jury. His failing is one of not using his tremendous influence and authority to make sure nothing more occurred and the previous allegations were handled swiftly and decisively. This wasn’t a case of some players trading memorabilia for cash and tats. It’s not an instance of a slimy agent’s slithering into a program. Players weren’t involved. Current coaches had nothing to do with it—other than McQueary and his report. Next to this, the outrage directed at Ohio State and Miami in recent months seems almost comical.
But Sandusky was on Paterno’s staff for five years while allegedly sexually assaulting boys, and it’s astounding that when this information was brought to Paterno in 2002 (three years after Sandusky’s retirement from PSU) he didn’t do more. Further, it’s hard to believe no one at the school knew about the alleged misdeeds before McQueary told Paterno what he saw. Paterno’s statement Sunday spoke of being “fooled,” along with “scores of professionals trained in such things.” Again, Paterno sounds like someone interested in protecting himself and his program, not a person in power for whom a report of such behavior would have triggered outrage and action.
Penn State will host Nebraska Saturday afternoon in what could well be Paterno’s final home game. It’s unfortunate that he won’t be able to go out with bells ringing and hosannas pouring down on him. His time at the school has been legendary, but it should end under the pall of this investigation and its ghastly details. Had Paterno done more, he could have retained his virtuous position and been viewed as a victim of a former aide’s appalling actions. Instead, he did the minimum and must now pay a price.
After 46 years, it’s over. We will remember the great moments. But it will be hard to forget the end.
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