By John Vitale in Opinions
November 17, 2011
It’s been nearly two weeks since Happy Valley, college football and the nation were shocked by a grand jury indictment alleging sexual abuse by former Penn State Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky and an apparent cover up by some prominent, high-ranking Penn State University officials.
Because of the release of the grand jury’s indictment—and the media firestorm that has ensued—names like Sandusky, Graham Spanier, Tim Curley, Mike McQueary and Gary Schultz have become household names shamed in infamy
Enter Joe Paterno. Or should I say re-enter?
Paterno is the one man caught in this network of lies that you probably heard of prior to the publication of the grand jury’s findings.
And since the story broke, no name, face, or picture has bombarded airwaves, newspapers and internet-news sites more than Paterno’s.
A mere two weeks ago very few people knew that Sandusky was the founder of “The Second Mile,” a charitable organization for at-risk, underprivileged male youths; very few people knew Spanier was the president of Penn State University, Curley the athletic director, McQueary the football team’s wide receiver’s coach and director of recruiting, and Schultz the senior VP of finance and business.
But for the past 46 years—up until Nov. 10—Paterno was the head football coach at one of the most prominent football and academic universities in the country.
Paterno is a man known for his philanthropic endeavors, but more commonly he is known as the all-time wins leader in NCAA D-I football and a two-time national champion.
Paterno previously announced his retirement—effective at the end of the 2011 season—but that timeline was not sufficient for the board as according to its Vice Chair John Surma terminating Paterno was “in the best interest of the university.”
But apparently it was not in the best interest of the fans.
A crowd of about 200 supporters clamored to the Paterno’s house in support of their coach. Thousands of Penn State students stormed the PSU campus in outrage.
Not all students exhibited deplorable behavior, but a select few flipped over a news van. The images of this act cluttered television sets across the country.
And while that one scene witnessed over and over again by Americans all across the country is not indicative of the PSU student body as a whole, it is indicative of the blind, unbiased and unwavering loyalty the PSU students have for their fallen coach.
Was the way Paterno fired unprofessional?
After 61 years of dedicated service to be handed an envelope with instructions to dial a phone number only to be told that your tenure is up was an incredibly unprofessional decision by the board.
Is a Paterno a victim?
Sure he is, but what the unwavering masses of Paterno supporters whining about his termination fail to realize is that he is a victim of his own flawed action. More specifically: inaction.
Sandusky is the alleged monster accused of horrible crimes. Not many people have come out publicly in support of him. And most people have piled on and blasted him for his alleged and admitted impropriety.
McQueary is the man who supposedly experienced an eye-witness encounter in which he testified that Sandusky was engaged in sexual intercourse with an approximate 10-year-old boy.
Much of the public has lambasted McQueary for calling his father and going to Paterno. McQueary claims that he stopped the sexual act, but that has yet to be confirmed. Yet still, most feel McQueary committed a gross injustice by not going directly to the police.
Schultz and Curley testified that the incident reported to Paterno by McQueary and his father was eventually reported to campus police. But their testimony was deemed not credible by the grand jury and each is now facing perjury charges.
It’s obvious that there was a cover up. It’s obvious that each of these men, Paterno included, knew of the incident. It’s obvious that the sanctity of Penn State football was in jeopardy of being soiled and tarnished. And it’s obvious that each of these men did very little to protect future children from being abused and to make sure that Sandusky was further investigated by the proper authorities. And while it may not be blatantly obvious, it is fair to assume that Penn State football and its preservation was the motivating factor behind this cover up.
All of the Penn Staters out there supporting Paterno, hurt by his termination, sad by the omission of his presence at the Nebraska game, and enraged by the way he was terminated, kudos to you!
There is no reason to abandon a man that gave so much of himself, for the majority of his life in his greatest time of need. For a long time you felt like you needed him. It is in this time that he needs all of you more than ever.
With that said, anyone out there feeling that Paterno should not have been fired, or that he has done absolutely nothing wrong is delusional.
Yes, your coach met his legal obligation by reporting McQueary’s eye-witness account to his immediate supervisor (Curley). But was that really enough?
He was a leader. He spent years of his life not just teaching young men the game of football, but some of life’s most educational and moral lessons.
Joe Paterno is not a terrible man. But in a pivotal moment in his life he made a terrible decision and whether his supporters want to believe it or not, that decision was not a spur of the moment lack of judgment unfortunate mistake. In that exact moment and subsequent moments when the leader was supposed to lead, Joe Paterno became a follower.
He followed the lead of Curley and Schultz. And indirectly he is just as guilty as they are. Maybe not in a legal sense, but without a doubt he is guilty of a gross ethical and immoral injustice.
When it comes to a child being sexually abused there is no effort to hinder the ability of the abuser that should go unexplored. You can’t do too much! These men, all of them—Paterno included—did too little. And they did it on purpose.
This is not to say they were okay with what happened to young boys on and off the PSU campus. They were just more okay with sweeping a firsthand account of child rape under the rug to preserve the luster of its cash cow football program.
And that’s where the fans come in.
You people should continue to support the young men that play their hearts out on fall Saturday afternoons, but you must realize that Penn State football should not be the center of your universe.
It’s only when leaders and followers exhibit this impenetrable and unbiased loyalty that the unfortunate events that took place at Penn State can occur.
Please don’t turn a blind eye to the real victims in this case: the children.
It’s sad that the PSU fans have to suffer because of the horrible acts alleged against Sandusky, combined with the questionable decision-making on the part of the all of the PSU administrators and coaches privy to the occurrence of those acts.
The coaches and officials are not the victims, including your beloved Paterno.
For everyone out there complaining about all of the focus being placed on Paterno, you need to realize that with great honor and distinction comes great responsibility and in this case Paterno’s actions were very irresponsible.
The reason the media is focused on Paterno so much is because you people care so much. You people watch it, you consume it, you blog about it, it consumes you. Paterno is not the monster. Sandusky is.
But the entire Penn State community seems to be willing to condemn all those above Paterno’s authority and all those below him, however, not the man himself.
This biased support of Paterno is what causes his name to stay in the headlines.
So, for all of you exhibiting this unconditional defense of his actions and an unwillingness to admit that Paterno was wrong, ask yourself this: Am I outraged because of the media’s focus on Paterno or is the media focused on Paterno because of my outrage?
Upon answering that question, take the high road, sit back, let the facts come out, and let the legal process takes its course and before you know it the wrongdoers will be outed and the truth will be known.
In the meantime, let your coach fade into the sunset peacefully and eventually the sun will rise again.
This one set of circumstances will not undo a lifetime of good, but for the time being, you’re all attempting to fight a battle that you simply can’t win.