Lessons From Joe Paterno
I have something to admit: I was a big part of the Penn State Scandal. Chances are, so were you. Anyone who kneeled at the altar at Penn State and made Joe Paterno a demigod must take some responsibility in the cover-up. In making the men atop Mount Nittany the gods of Mount Olympus, we unfairly created a false bubble of moral infallibility around the university.
We made Penn State too big to fail. And when the institution started to crumble under the weight of the evil and undeniable facts that exposed former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky as a sexual predator of the young and vulnerable, we still did all we could to protect the legacy of Joe Paterno.
The common arguments you would hear from the Penn State cultists to cover for Paterno were as follows:
• There is no evidence that Joe Paterno knew about Jerry Sandusky’s assaults on children before a graduate assistant Mike McQueary told him he saw Sandusky raping a child in the Penn State showers in 2001.
• Paterno did what he was supposed to do and told his bosses as soon as heard. He didn’t take part in the actual cover-up.
• Paterno was old and losing it. He wasn’t even really running the football team anymore. Give him a break.
When former FBI director Louis Freeh announced that he would be releasing his report, I was leading the charge on the radio decrying his motives. “Why kick a man when he is dead?” I attacked. “What good could come from further staining the legacy of the man?” I begged. I was wrong.
Those of us who defended JoePa needed to be exposed. We needed to learn the truth. And the truth is devastating. Joe Paterno lied to the grand jury and to us all. He knew in 1998. And when Mike McQueary came to him four years later, Paterno did tell his superiors. But there is evidence that then he told them not to go to police. Beloved Joe Paterno was not just a doddering, old legend—another unwitting victim of Sandusky. He was the kingpin of the cover-up. I know it is difficult to accept, but it is important that we do. Blind faith in anything is dangerous. We need to accept that at least five more boys were assaulted at Penn State after Joe Paterno found out about what his friend and assistant coach was doing. His decision was to protect the reputation of Penn State and his legacy. In doing so, he protected a predator instead of protecting the victims.
You will remember that when the story finally broke last year, it killed the 85-year-old Joe Paterno. There was talk of renaming Penn State’s football stadium after him—not anymore. Now the talk is if his statue outside the stadium should be taken down.
Still, Paterno got off easy by dying. He won’t have to live with the unspeakable evil of what he allowed to happen as he looked the other way. He won’t have to suffer the exclamation point of public disdain as he is led away in handcuffs, mirroring the man he protected. He won’t have to suffer going to prison like Sandusky did and like athletic director Tim Curley, vice president Gary Shultz and former president Graham Spanier might. Spanier has not been charged yet, but the evidence of culpability in Freeh’s report makes it inevitable.
And JoePa won’t have to suffer as the victims will suffer, their lives ruined by a nightmare that won’t go away—a nightmare Paterno could have stopped, but chose not to.
It is important to remember that Paterno is not alone, and this just doesn’t happen at Penn State. This is happening in homes, schools and communities across America. One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted by an adult before they are 18. Chances are another adult will know about it and choose to do nothing.
If you look the other way, you are part of the problem and could be committing a crime. If you know of sexual abuse happening to a child, call police or the help hotline 800-4-A-Child.
Learn something from Joe Paterno and Penn State. Start protecting children and not the predator. We all need to stop looking the other way.