Paterno, Penn Stae fail the moral test
BY MIKE JONES Associate Editor
Sunday, November 13, 2011
11/13/11 at 3:24 AM
Put yourself in this hypothetical situation: You are a teacher at the local elementary school. One day you walk into the office of the gym teacher and find him sexually abusing one of the students.
Stunned and upset, you go to the principal and report what you have seen. The principal assures you that the matter will be taken care of. Still angry, you at least feel that you have done your duty and the principal will handle the situation.
Days go by. Nothing changes. In fact, the gym teacher is still at work. You confront the principal and are told that he is doing what is best for the school and that it was an isolated incident.
Now what? It is likely that you would do what most of us would do: go over the principal's head. This is not only a criminal matter but a moral one. You call the police.
Black and white
That would be the right thing to do. It might be difficult, but often the right thing is not the easy thing. Most important, it puts an end to what might have been a series of incidents and certainly prevents any in the future.
For most of us, that is a very black and white choice. It wasn't, evidently, so clear at Penn State University or for its legendary head football coach Joe Paterno and some other university officials.
Paterno, 84, supposedly is one of the good guys. He has coached at Penn State for 46 years. He has more wins, 409, at the major college level than any other coach. He won two national championships. His players are consistently in the tops in graduation rates. He runs a clean program. They play in Happy Valley. He is revered by other coaches and loved by former players. Even fans of other teams respect the man affectionately known as JoePa.
Last week, Paterno's longtime assistant coach and highly regarded defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, was charged with child sex abuse for as many as eight alleged incidents dating back as far as 1994.
In 2002, a graduate assistant told Paterno of an alleged incident that took place in the Penn State locker room shower between Sandusky and a young boy. The graduate assistant testified to a grand jury that he told Paterno that Sandusky was "fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy."
In a statement, Paterno said that he "did what I was supposed to with the one charge brought to my attention." He informed his superiors.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly has a different view. "Those officials and administrators to whom it was reported did not report the incident to law enforcement or to any child protection agency. Their inaction, likely, allowed a child predator to continue to victimize children for many, many years," Kelly said.
The fallout at Penn State was swift. Sandusky was arrested and two university officials who had been made aware of the charges - Gary Schultz, the senior vice president for finance and business, and Tim Curley, the athletic director - were charged with perjury and failure to report to authorities what they knew of the allegations.
There is plenty of blame to go around. Mike McQueary, the then-graduate assistant who reported the incident to Paterno, stayed with the Penn State program and is now the receivers coach. He, too, could have gone over his boss's head long ago.
Is the image of Penn State football and Paterno so important, so pristine that such horrible events would be ignored or covered up? This is no ordinary college football scandal. Fans, administrators, coaches and the NCAA wring their hands over such rule-breaking as athletes taking new cars or phantom jobs from boosters or players selling complimentary tickets, jerseys, helmets or rings. This infraction, and that is much too mild of a word, goes far beyond any of that.
The idea that the alleged abuse of children would be ignored to preserve a coach's or school's reputation is repulsive.
For the children
Paterno announced Wednesday that he would retire at the end of this season. He said he wanted to end his career with dignity. Well, it was too late for that. The board of trustees evidently felt the same way. Wednesday evening, it voted to fire Paterno as well as university president Graham Spanier.
Paterno faces no charges in this matter. By doing the minimum legally demanded of him, he has likely shielded himself from criminal charges. The U.S. Department of Education, however, will investiage whether Penn State failed to report incidents of sexual abuse on campus.
There will be those who bemoan the fact that Paterno has soiled his legacy as a great football coach, a great leader and a credit to the university. And some will continue to defend Paterno, such as the hundreds of students who, showing terrible judgment, took to the streets in protest of his being fired. He deserves no such support or sympathy. I'm sorry for that. But it was his choice. He might have fulfilled his legal obligations, but he failed, miserably, his moral responsibility.
I'm not sad for Paterno. I'm sad for those children who could have been spared a life of misery if only one of the most respected men in college athletics would have done the right thing.
If only this football legend would have done what any of the rest of us would have.
Original Print Headline: Personal foul
Mike Jones, 918-581-8332
Penn State coach Joe Paterno stands on the field before his team's game against Northwestern, in Evanston, Ill. Paterno was fired by the board of trustees Wednesday. JIM PRISCHING/Associated Press file