In 46 seasons as the football coach at Penn State University, Joe Paterno appeared to create a culture of winning and decency he called “Success with Honor.”
Now that the culture has been exposed as a haven for an alleged child molester, Paterno needs to do the honorable thing and resign before he coaches another game.
It’s sad that the winningest coach in major-college football history will end his career with a giant “L” in the human being department, but not nearly so sad as the idea that boys may have been abused because football’s most controlling boss did nothing.
Paterno is a simple man, a basic man, with his trademark black shoes and white socks and thick black glasses remaining unchanged for nearly half a century. Surely this fundamental approach can help him understand why he can no longer run a program whose legendary sparkling blue-and-white uniforms hid a dark sickness within its locker room walls.
On Saturday, Jerry Sandusky, 67, a longtime Nittany Lions defensive coordinator who was once thought to be Paterno’s successor, was charged with sexually abusing eight boys during a 15-year period. The grand jury’s findings of fact in the case read like a horror story, except the location wasn’t some haunted mansion, it was Joe Paterno’s hallowed halls.
The report charges that Sandusky assaulted children in Penn State locker room showers, at Penn State bowl games, and in his home the night before Penn State home games.
“This is a case about a sexual predator who used his position within the university and community to repeatedly prey on young boys,” read a statement from Pennsylvania Atty. Gen. Linda Kelly.
Two top university officials, Vice President Gary Schultz and Athletic Director Tim Curley, were charged with perjury and failure to report to authorities that they knew about the allegations. Paterno was not charged with a crime, but this is where he becomes involved.
How did these men know about the allegations? In one instance, in 2002, Paterno told them, yet they did nothing, and Paterno apparently looked the other direction as Sandusky allegedly continued to molest young boys for seven more years.
According to the grand jury, in 2002, then-graduate assistant coach Mike McQueary witnessed Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in a shower in the school’s Lasch Football Building. Sandusky had retired three years earlier, but he still had an office in the football building, from which he ran his Second Mile Foundation for needy children.
A day after witnessing the assault, McQueary drove to Paterno’s home and told him what he had seen. Paterno then informed Curley of the incident.
And then, nothing.
Nearly two weeks after the incident, Curley and Schultz met with Sandusky and told him he could no longer bring any Second Mile children onto the campus. But the officials did not alert the police, and Sandusky continued to work as a welcomed member of the Penn State football family.
Curley and Schultz resigned Sunday while Paterno issued a statement.
“If this is true, we were all fooled, along with scores of professionals trained in such things,” read part of the statement. “While I did what I was supposed to do with the one charge brought to my attention, like anyone else involved, I can’t help but be deeply saddened these matters are alleged to have occurred.”
Paterno was fooled? He was informed that a former longtime assistant coach was “behaving inappropriately” while taking a shower with a boy in his locker room. Surely he couldn’t have been less fooled.
Paterno did what he was supposed to do? No, as the most powerful and influential figure on the Penn State campus, he should have done more.
What do you think would have happened if, say, Paterno had gone to his athletic director requesting a change of the shade of black on his football team’s legendary shoes. What if Curley had done nothing with the request? How long before Paterno did something himself? Maybe nine minutes?
Yet he tells Curley about an alleged child molester frolicking in his showers and then casually forgets about it for nine years?
At some point after informing the athletic director of the report, Paterno should have gone to Curley and said, “If you don’t do something, I will.”
Although this is not a gesture mandated by state law or school handbook, it is a fact of simple humanity.
“If you don’t do something, I will,” is a statement that now needs to be directed at the coach by the school’s board of trustees.
For the sake of a university whose continued association with him would damage its success and stain its honor, if Joe Paterno doesn’t quit, they should fire him.