Thursday, November 10, 2011

At Penn State, Joe Had to Go

Sandusky and Paterno

It's a sad day in Happy Valley, the home of the Penn State Nittany Lions, a University now rocked by one of the very worst kinds of scandal. Former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky stands credibly accused of raping and sexually molesting a series of young boys, some at least as young as 10 years old, and of doing so in some instances inside the football facilities while he was still a coach.

Sandusky stands to be judged on his own for these heinous, monstrous actions. But now comes the important issue of who else knew, may have known, or where made aware of what was going on, and did little or nothing to protect these children.

Last night that fallout spread to school president Graham Spanier and head football coach Joe Paterno, both of whom were fired by the university board. For Spanier it is the end of a 16-year run, and for the iconic 'Joe Pa' it marks the ignominious end to a 46-year head coaching career.

I could write all day long on the circumstances that led to this point, and the guilt, culpability, and responsibility that Sanduskay, Spanier, and others hold in this situation. But I'll leave that to the countless articles arleady out there, already well written.

Here, I want to cover a couple of simple points about Paterno, points that highlight the reasons that for days my own mantra was "Joe must go!" Now that he is rightly gone, the issue of his responsibility needs to be addressed.

At the time of the raping of children inside the football team facilities, Paterno was the head football coach. The man doing the rapes was a good friend of Paterno, and fellow coach on his staff. Paterno was given specific information about the rape of a young boy, that information coming from a credible person. Paterno took this information to his Athletic Director.

In taking the information to the Athletic Director, Joe Paterno did the right thing, to that point. It's what he did not do next that got him fired last night. Joe Paterno is a coach and teacher of young students. He is also the iconic face of the football program. He had a responsibility to not simply do the least expected of him by law, but rather to continue to research and investigate his program and specifically the accused coach.

But Paterno chose to simply leave it at that. 10-year olds raped in his locker showers, and he tells somebody, and that's it? Sure that was it. That was it because anything else would destroy his football program in general, the reputation of his good friend in particular.

The problem is that Paterno's loyalties were misplaced. The problem is that by his position, he was obliged to do more. Maybe not stand at midfield at halftime and call out Sandusky, not call a press conference. But he should have stayed with the accusations, followed up with the AD as to what specifically was being done.

Had Joe Paterno and others done the most, which is what needs to be done when accusations are that children are being raped, then perhaps some children would never have been harmed. And perhaps being more pro-active, he could have looked heroic personally and saved some of the University's reputation as well.

People do indeed have an obligation to step forward when they see crimes and wrong-doing. They also have an obligation to report allegations of such things brought to their attention. Further, when those allegations are so heinous as to be potentially endangering of our children, people need to not simply do the minimum, but need to aggressively pursure truth.

In the outstanding Tom Cruise/Jack Nicholson/Demi Moore military courtroom drama "A Few Good Men", the two accused Marines, Dawson and Downey, are found guilty at the end of the trial and face Dishonorable Discharges from the military court martial. Downey self-righteously shouts "We did nothing wrong!" Dawson replies "Yeah we did. We were supposed to fight for people that couldn't fight for themselves."

Exactly. And that is what Paterno, among others, was supposed to have done.

What happened at Penn State was cover-up, concealment, and enabling, by Paterno and others. Everyone who knew, or should have known, needs to be fired. Some may need to be prosecuted along with Sandusky. But one thing is obvious, that Joe had to go. Now he is indeed gone, and it's only the beginning of this sad state of affairs.

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