By Jeff Girod
Coaching legend Joe Paterno was fired last week as a child sex-abuse scandal continues to rock Penn State. Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant coach, has been charged with 40 counts of child abuse against eight victims over 15 years, according to a grand jury report.
Some of the incidents are alleged to have happened on Penn State property and Paterno, among other school officials, has been singled out for his inaction. But this isn’t a call for sympathy for poor Coach JoPa, so swallow your whistle and stuff your yellow hankie.
In 2002, Paterno was told by a graduate assistant that he saw Sandusky allegedly sodomizing a 10-year-old boy in a campus shower. Paterno immediately informed both his athletic director and a school’s vice president, who then informed Penn State’s president. (Notice, at no point did I mention the word “police,” which is why half these people are now fired and the other half is facing charges of perjury.)
Anyone who says Paterno fulfilled his moral responsibility by “reporting it to his supervisors” doesn’t get it. You know who uses logic like that? People with nametags on their shirts.
Joe Paterno isn’t some bumbling Magoo in Coke-bottle glasses. He’s won more games than any major football coach in history. He’s coached five undefeated teams. He’s arguably the most powerful man in Pennsylvania.
Paterno has been the coach at one of the most storied athletic programs since 1966; on the sidelines since ’49. There’s a bronze statue of him in front of the stadium. Nothing—nothing—happens at Penn State, not in the locker room, not in the weight room, not in the showers, not without Joe Paterno eventually knowing about it.
JoPa doesn’t have a supervisor. If JoPa had a supervisor, his supervisor would have already asked, “Why is an 85-year-old tortoise with an Elvis hairdo coaching our football team?” You won’t see that at USC or LSU or Alabama, because 85-year-olds need help selecting an early-bird special, let alone leading a team of young men.
And that’s what Penn State needed in 2002: A leader. Not someone whose agenda was maintaining the status quo, even at the expense of a 10-year-old boy, not to mention the seven other victims allegedly molested by Sandusky. How many of those victims could JoPa have protected?
If Paterno wanted, he could’ve raised one shriveled arm and unleashed a legion of Nittany Lion fans on Sandusky. He could’ve called in a dozen favors no doubt accrued during a 62-year career and had Sandusky quietly escorted away to await trial. Or Paterno—or anyone with a backbone and a dialing finger—could’ve phoned police and stopped this alleged abuse.
Some say the stigma of molestation will set back Penn State’s football program for years. Gee, I hope so. I hope it cripples it for decades. The last of Sandusky’s alleged victims hasn’t even turned 20 years old. How long will he remain emotionally crippled? I wonder if he worries if the locker room showers where a boy was allegedly sodomized will ever again play host to five-star, blue chip recruits. I wonder if that’s what keeps him up nights.
Or maybe he wonders how Mike McQueary, the 6’4”, 220-pound graduate assistant and former Penn State quarterback—who had experience playing against the likes of Michigan and Ohio State linebackers, who was 30 years younger than Sandusky, and had once stopped a knife fight in a campus dining hall—how McQueary could allegedly see a nude, helpless child being raped a football’s toss away and just cowardly slink away, allowing it to continue, not for a day, not for a week, but for a decade, according to the grand jury report, and earning a promotion to coach full-time in the process.
And how is it that Penn State’s president, its vice president, its athletic director and its hall-of-fame coach, whose university’s motto is “Success with Honor,” could allow an alleged child molester to slither through its sports program with seemingly free reign? Jerry Sandusky reportedly had access to Penn State’s weight room as recently as last week, and, as of Friday, his biography, Touched, was still available in Penn State’s bookstore.
How does anyone see or hear about something so despicable and look the other way for a win-loss record?
Tell us, JoPa.
Contact Jeff Girod at firstname.lastname@example.org.