On Saturday we were celebrating JoePa’s 409th collegiate football victory.
On Wednesday we were saying goodbye to a legend who was once above reproach.
It’s an odd bookend to an otherwise illustrious career; however, as we read more into what was uncovered during those three days, the more it makes my stomach turn.
All I know of Joe Paterno is what I’ve seen in interviews and on the football field. He was admittedly old-school, tough, and commanded respect. He didn’t seem to put up with a lot of the nonsense that is prevalent these days and really, he was everyone’s grandfather; he was Grandpa Joe. He withstood the criticism of his coaching abilities as he grew older and brought this year’s Penn State team to a strong 8-1 record (currently undefeated in the Big 10) and probably a top-tier bowl game.
But as details of the alleged sexual abuse from one of his former assistant coaches, Jerry Sandusky, begin to seep out, the less JoePa’s coaching achievements seem to matter. Here is a man who, for whatever reason, chose not to get more involved, chose not to fully flesh out what then Graduate Assistant Mike McQueary witnessed, chose not to question his assistant coach, and chose to not follow up with his superiors. There was a systematic failure on all levels to protect the ones who really needed protection: the young boys. Instead, they chose to protect their own; one who certainly needed to be outed and not taken back into the fold.
From what I have read, JoePa and McQueary, now the receivers’ coach (more on this later), did what was legally required by following Pennslyvania state protocol by reporting the incident to their superiors. It was the Athletic Director Tim Curley and the school’s Vice President Gary Schultz’ responsibility to report the abuse to the Department of Public Welfare, in which they failed to do so. Where JoePa and McQueary went wrong was failing to follow up with DPW to check on the status of the case and to press for more action.
Protocol aside, the problem most people are trying to reconcile is why no one stepped outside themselves to provide additional help. Why didn’t the university do more the limit Sandusky’s access to campus facilities knowing that he had a history of using them while exhibiting inappropriate behavior with young boys? Why didn’t any of the top brass confront Sandusky about the rumors of inappropriate contact (because you know someone knew something and told other people)? Why didn’t the janitors and McQueary intervene when they witnessed the alleged assaults? Why didn’t one of the janitors report the abuse he witnessed? Why didn’t they call police? Why didn’t they insist their superiors follow up with the case? Why didn’t the DA decide to pursue a case after Sandusky admitted to showering naked with a young boy back in 1998?
Why was this allowed to continue over a 15 year period?
There are so many failures within this chain that I’m disheartened that it has gotten this far. I can’t help but take it personally, as I wonder how I would feel if I found out there was a known pattern that was not stopped before my friends’ sons, my nephew, MY SON was abused. If even one child is victimized, it is too much.
Should JoePa have lost his job as a result? As a man who holds so much sway within a community, he could have, and should have, done more. His failure to exert more pressure for an appropriate solution is disappointing but legally he did all that was expected. However, for a man who’s main goal is to “serve the best interests of this university and the young men who have been entrusted to [his] care,” it is sad that he did the opposite. Sandusky was using the Penn State football facilities during his assaults. JoePa should have stepped up for the sake of those boys. If Jim Tressel can be dimissed for failing to monitor the situation at Ohio State, certainly JoePa could be dimissed for failing to monitor the situation happening in his locker room. This is bigger than a football issue. This is a human issue and whenever you fail to act rationally and morally, then you have simply failed.
No matter what, JoePa had to go. There was no way he could have coached for the remainder of the season without the increased scrutiny surrounding this case. Every week he would have faced more questions about the case and it would have grown to a much larger distraction. But if JoePa is fired for his inaction, then surely McQueary should be let go as well [ETA: ESPN is now reporting that McQueary will not be coaching this Saturday but still remains on staff - it's a start], considering he actually saw the abuse and did as much as JoePa in terms of reporting the incident. If anything, I’m outraged that he is still allowed to remain on staff when the other bigger names have all been dismissed or stepped down. But can you imagine how the victims and their families feel? Watching people riot and protest a coach’s dismissal as a result of his inaction in their lives? Is it hard to possibly think they could feel that the protesters might think THEY are the reason why JoePa was fired? That is not a burden that should be placed on them.
It’s sad to see JoePa’s legacy tarnished by this scandal, but it’s even sadder that so many adults failed to protect those boys.