Joe Paterno

Feet of clay

Joe Paterno

Last night Penn State University trustees fired head coach Joe Paterno for his seeming complicity in and indifference to a child molestation incident in 2002. The university president was also fired. The firing came just hours after Paterno announced his intention to retire at the end of the season.

In 2002, then–graduate assistant Mike McQueary reported to Paterno that he saw defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky raping a young boy in the athletic department showers. McQueary did nothing further, and Paterno reported the incident only to the athletic director and a university vice president. No one notified police. On November 4, 2011, Sandusky was indicted on “dozens of counts of child sexual abuse. A grand jury statement reveal[ed] the gristly details of multiple accounts of alleged sexual acts on children …”

When first notified of his firing, Paterno reportedly said, “You give your life to this place, and that’s how you’re treated.”

I was never a Paterno fan, but I understood how legendary he was in college football and I had some understanding of the vaunted Penn State ethos. Frankly, I had no idea the 84-year-old was still the head coach, but given his status, I was stunned to learn this man had not immediately reported and taken decisive action against Sandusky. It’s tragic that such a storied career ended with a firing in the midst of a very ugly scandal, but it appears Paterno stayed far too long, believed his own press releases, and thought of himself as someone too big to fall.

No man’s reputation, no football program, no university is more important than the safety of our children. Paterno was trusted by parents across the country to be an example, a counselor to and trainer of impressionable young men in their formative years. Yet, in his silence, he was also the knowing protector and enabler of an habitual child molester.

And if that weren’t appalling enough, Penn State students immediately rallied and rioted in “JoePa’s” defense. I fully understand student loyalty and dedication to a popular head coach and a great football tradition; I’m a University of Oklahoma alum. But a reaction like this when those students knew what Paterno did — or didn’t do — is truly sad. It speaks to the worst in college students, not what is — or was — the best about Penn State.

Photo: MSN/FoxSports

4 thoughts on “Feet of clay

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more Pied. I think that this incident can only increase the perception that large American institutions are little more than “good old boy’s clubs” even more. Sadly, that exposure might be the only “good” thing to come from all this… 😐

    1. College athletic programs are rotten with good ol’ boys and their good ol’ money. It’s a crime (ethical if not legal) that academics so often take a back seat to athletics at so-called institutions of learning.

  2. I also agree with your post, Pied. Well said. Like so many other famous people, Paterno was brought down by hubris, having bought into his own legend. Ironically, the intense media coverage and public reaction is an indictment of the odd reversal of priorities for a great university. It is clear that football and money transcend academics and moral concerns, not only at Penn State but in the rest of the nation’s colleges as well.

    I believe Herman Cain is traveling the same road as Paterno.

    1. Yep, Cain’s hubris is bringing him down at this very moment. The only acceptable thing to do when something like this comes out (which would never happen with most mere mortals) is to confess fully, apologize profusely and sincerely, and fall on your sword. Sometimes, if you’re lucky and well liked, you’ll be forgiven and allowed to continue.

... and that's my two cents