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OPINION: No Sympathy for Paterno

The firing of Penn State head coach Joe Paterno and president Graham Spanier Wednesday night was the right move, but more investigation is needed.

After the release of the grand jury investigation into the actions of former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky and his subsequent arrest, the Happy Valley campus has been in turmoil, culminating in by the Penn State Board of Trustees to fire head coach Joe Paterno and college president Graham Spanier.

The news sent Penn State students to the street in protest of the move, overturning a news van, chanting “f*** the trustees” and bringing out riot police who used mace to disperse the crowds. While the destruction of property is inexcusable, I maintain some level of understanding at their reaction to the sudden downfall of the man who has been the face and spirit of the school for more than 55 years.

However, as a parent and non-PSU alumnus, and after reading the actual grand jury findings, the only thing I can feel is anger at all the parties involved.

There is no doubt that Jerry Sandusky is the real monster throughout all this, but Paterno, Spanier, former Athletic Director Tim Curley, former senior vice president of finance and business Mike Schultz, Mike McQueary, and campus and state investigators circled the wagons and placed the school’s legacy and reputation before the welfare of the children terrorized by Sandusky.

They all are equally responsible for what they allowed to happen and should all be held equally accountable. If one gets fired, they should all be fired.

If you don’t have the stomach for the full account, here’s a timeline that gives you the basic account. There’s one particular aspect that I cannot get my head around.

According to the grand jury, the first reported incident was in 1998, when a boy who was a member of Sandusky’s Second Mile camp tells his mother that he showered with Sandusky. After she reports this, a six-week investigation is taken up, during which detectives eavesdrop on two phone conversations between Sandusky and the mother. They overhear him admit to showering with the boy and others, and he is quoted, “I understand. I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won't get it from you. I wish I were dead.”

Presented with this evidence, Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar decided to drop the case and file no criminal charges. However, in June 1999, Sandusky announced his retirement, yet maintained his emeritus status and was permitted access to campus facilities, which he used for his camp.

Since joining Penn State’s coaching squad in 1969, Sandusky had built the team’s defense into one of the most formidable in the nation. Much of the team’s successes over those years had been attributed to Sandusky’s defensive coordination skills. By many accounts, he was next in line to take over for Paterno, yet he decides to just retire.

More investigation is needed surrounding this first incident, and I have a feeling as the weeks and months go on, we’ll be hearing more. I can’t imagine any coach with the success, adulation and thirst for victory that Sandusky had, with the prospect of taking over one of the most celebrated teams in the country, just walking away.

Testimony to the grand jury says that nobody outside the initial investigation in 1998 knew about it, but quite frankly, I don’t believe it. I know I’m entering conspiracy theory territory here, but I think the campus investigators told the administration, including Paterno, about what happened. They confronted Sandusky and struck a deal that called for his “retirement” but allowed him to stay on campus.

If it was reported that he had been fired and banned from Penn State, it would have sparked a lot more scrutiny than the given reason, which is that Sandusky wanted to spend more time with his charitable work. Now, I could be completely off-base with this assertion, and there is currently no concrete evidence to back this up, but Curley and Schultz have already been charged with perjury. Who's to say more lies aren't being told?

If this theory stands up, and everybody knew what was going on in 1998, then it casts an even darker shadow on the lack of action in 2002, when McQueary told his father, then Paterno, that he saw Sandusky sexually assaulting a 10-year-old boy in the gymnasium showers.

That information was passed up through the school’s chain of command, with nobody going to the authorities and no criminal investigation ordered. Instead, they quietly took away Sandusky’s keys, basically telling him that they don’t care what he does with the children, as long as he does it off campus.

It would be foolish to deny Paterno his past achievements. When you think Penn State, you think Joe Paterno. His program has a history of churning out well-disciplined players that have gone on to further success both on and off the field. He has raised and donated millions of dollars for Penn State and numerous charities.

The love and support expressed by the students and alumni shows how much he matters to that school. Yet, I have to wonder if they would display similar sympathy if this was happening to one of their rival schools.

Paterno’s acts and that money do not buy moral absolution. He said in a statement, "This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."

He’s right, but it’s too little, too late.

Is there any question that he is the most powerful person at Penn State, regardless of administrative titles and hierarchy?

He personally could have dragged Sandusky through the front gates to the district attorney’s office, and nobody would have questioned him. But he didn’t.

Nobody did.

Instead, they circled the wagons and tried to sweep everything under the rug in order to maintain that same legacy that now has come crashing down.

Finally, in all the misery, anger and disgust felt at Sandusky and the Penn State administration, we should take a moment to recognize the hero in this story.

It was the mother of “victim 1” who finally bypassed the university and went to the police, sparking the grand jury investigation.

Thanks to her, Sandusky has been stopped.

Vic Monaco November 12, 2011 at 02:10 AM
Agree with you 100 percent, Jim. I'll add that Paterno also did nothing right after this came to light. He should have resigned or retired immediately -- something he was asked to do seven years ago since he hasn't really been coaching in years. And he should have told the students not to do anything stupid because he and football are not important right now. Instead, he's playing the martyr act.
Liberty 1 November 12, 2011 at 09:22 PM
Paterno should have been allowed to finish this season. He did what he has been taught to do, inform his "corporate" superiors. Morally, he should have had Sandusky's legs broken. But then 'action' is not something we want people to take on their own. What a difference if that red headed wuss McQueary went in and beat the snot out of the perv rather then call his daddy for advice - and shame on his father also. It all stinks but it is only a example of how this society has been trained to look the other way and pass the buck rather then taking action.
Vic Monaco November 12, 2011 at 09:28 PM
But somehow, in your mind, Paterno didn't pass the buck? He only did what he was "taught to do?" He is supposed to be the teacher. And he was the most powerful man on that campus and certainly capable of getting Sandusky off the campus without breaking his legs.
Liberty 1 November 12, 2011 at 09:56 PM
Yes, Joe did pass the buck.......up to his supervisor. As they are all taught to do. It was a morally wrong action. But the University is to blame with the system of legal ethics that is designed only to protect those in power. Paterno was a powerful influence on that campus but he had bosses too. And by getting the perv off campus only would have him elsewhere. At least with some broken legs he would have some difficulty getting him there!
Marc Lombardi November 13, 2011 at 12:51 AM
Very well said, Jim. I agree with you on virtually all of the points you made. I can understand why people respect Paterno so much, but I can't fathom why his supporters have given him a pass on his actions (or lackthereof).

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