[Note: This blog was posted prior to the recent developments resulting in the firing of University President Graham Spanier and Coach Joe Paterno]
As a young man, I had always viewed sports as a release—an escape from the doldrums of life if only for a few hours.
Earlier this year I had blogged about the impact sports has on healing through tragedy such as with the Gabby Giffords’ shooting in Arizona or the way the sports world came together after the devastating tornadoes that ravaged both Missouri and a year ago in Alabama. It’s in moments like those when an athlete comes down off of his/her perch and remembers that they are people too and that single action causes children to begin their idolization and finally understand what their fathers saw in men they did not know personally in their youth, but felt a kinship with them because they became human.
But what do you do when your escape from reality becomes a living nightmare? Where do you run to and who do you look to after that? Those are just a few of the questions facing one Joseph Vincent Paterno and the Penn State Nittany Lions.
Joe Paterno or “Joe Pa” has been in coaching at Penn State longer than I have been breathing. In actuality, he’s been there longer than my mom, dad and 10 of their siblings as well. The man is Penn State. He has constructed a power base at that institution that would rival only Bear Bryant and Barry Switzer if they were still coaching Alabama and Oklahoma respectively. He has built his and his program’s reputation through honesty, integrity and trust from the moment he became head coach.
Nearly every athlete that has come through his program loves the man. I can’t recall an unkind word that has been uttered against him. Conversely, the words and phrases that usually follow any mention of his name are “iconic,” “legendary,” “does it the right way” and “moral authority.”
Of course that was all before there were no more fingers to be shoved in the Penn State dyke and the water came running through the city before the villagers knew what hit them. No one knew except the principals that had walked away from the dam to ensure they reached higher ground minutes before because they knew what was about to come. Only the water reached their feet and it still hasn’t stopped.
School president Graham Spanier is expected to be fired soon; A.D. Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz have been charged with failing to notify authorities of child abuse in the confines of Happy Valley and receivers coach Mike McQueery is more than likely to have coached his last game ever within the coming days all because these people who have been around the man that defines Penn State; the man that is integrity, that is an icon and is worshipped like no other in the state of Pennsylvania decided to forgo some semblance of good judgment and report serial rapist, Jerry Sandusky, to someone outside of the university.
As they sat on their hands, this monster masquerading as a defensive coordinator and community outreach volunteer was able to assault victim after victim at will. In my opinion they are all complicit as they allowed Sandusky to use the athletic facilities as a romper room for after hours activities with prepubescent teens even after they were informed of the initial incident in 1998. Yes 1998, as in 13 years ago. He retired the next year and was given emeritus status upon his departure where he would use his access to molest more boys.
And as if this couldn’t get any worse, Paterno and Curley knew. Of course it’s all semantics about what questions they asked after they found out whatever minimal details they wished to hear; the bottom line is they knew and did nothing. They didn’t contact the victims or their parents; they didn’t contact the attorney general or the state police either. They didn’t run Sandusky’s ass out of town because they simply didn’t care.
They cared about Penn State, the public relations hit the school would take in the media and the legacy of Jo Pa. That’s all they cared about. And they kept passing the buck and what we got 13 years later is a room full of folks that at the least should be charged with obstruction of justice and one that needs to go to prison for the rest of his life.
Joe Pa could have settled this long ago and would have still came out on top had he lived up to the moral code we’ve come to expect from him and what he expects from his players. Allegedly he and Sandusky were friends so I don’t see why he couldn’t have asked one simple question: Did you have an inappropriate sexual relationship with a minor in my athletic facility? It didn’t matter the answer because the next step would have been to alert the proper authorities and when he got around to it, inform the A.D., campus police and the president of what was about to happen. Whether Sandusky was innocent or guilty would have been left up to jurors and would have freed Joe and the university from wrongdoing immediately.
No one else would have been molested, Sandusky would have been stopped and the athletic program would have been spared the firestorm it is receiving now because at that point it would have been one man versus 9 victims. Because of everyone’s incompetence it now has become the leadership structure versus 9 victims.
And now their willful ignorance will come at a price and it should. I don’t think Joe should be allowed to finish the year. McQueery should not be allowed to finish the year. Any person who had any knowledge of any of these incidents should not be allowed on the Penn State campus and that included the venerable coach Joe Paterno. You cannot sit idly by while a man preys on children and you are more concerned about the virtue of the institution than the virtue of a child. The most precious thing in the world is a child’s innocence and Paterno, McQueery, Spanier, Schultz and others might as well have been sitting right in the room while Sandusky defiled these kids. There is no way as a student athlete and possibly a student that I would want to be associated with a school that conducts its business much like the Catholic Church.
It’s time that everyone involved did the right thing and got out of the way in order to let the healing process begin. And that includes Coach Joe Paterno.
If he is all the things we think and have said he is, then immediately stepping down should be his next step so he can at least regain some of his and Penn State’s dignity.