Joe Paterno should resign. He should resign because, in the leadership vacuum that is Penn State University, he’s the only person with the gravitas to fire himself. Facing the most important trial of his professional career, the man supposed to embody courage, dignity and nobility showed weakness. His irresponsibility may have led to the harm of innocent children. His failure, for someone who places himself in a position of authority, is inexcusable.
Penn State knew and they did nothing. Police investigated an incident in 1998. Jerry Sandusky, then the defensive coordinator, allegedly showered with a young boy in the Penn State football facilities. In a conversation overheard by police, Sandusky responded “I don’t know…maybe” when asked if he touched the boy’s genitals. He told the mother of the boy “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.” No charges were filed. Sandusky retired unexpectedly in 1999.
In 2000, a Penn State janitor reported seeing Sandusky forcibly performing oral sex on a 10-year-old boy in the showers. In 2002, a Penn State graduate assistant, by his own account, witnessed a naked Jerry Sandusky holding a 10-year-old boy prone and penetrating him in the anus. The GA – identified by the New York Times as a former PSU QB – fled, called his father and then called Joe Paterno.
Paterno recounts the incident in the following statement.
“As my grand jury testimony stated, I was informed in 2002 by an assistant coach that he had witnessed an incident in the shower of our locker room facility. It was obvious that the witness was distraught over what he saw, but he at no time related to me the very specific actions contained in the Grand Jury report. Regardless, it was clear that the witness saw something inappropriate involving Mr. Sandusky. As Coach Sandusky was retired from our coaching staff at that time, I referred the matter to university administrators.
He referred the matter to university administrators. This was not notifying his bosses. Bosses are more experienced than you. Bosses make more money than you. Bosses hold the power of employment or unemployment over you. Joe Paterno does not have bosses. He is not an authority figure in the Penn State athletics department. He is the authority figure.
Legally, Paterno notified someone as required. Morally, Paterno abdicated responsibility entirely. It’s unclear what specifically he thought “something inappropriate involving Mr. Sandusky” meant. It’s unclear why, when told “something inappropriate” happened in a shower, between an adult man and an underage child in front of a distraught witness, he made no effort to alert proper authorities and made no effort to follow up on the incident and that authorities were alerted. There’s no evidence he even confronted Sandusky about it. He washed his hands and walked away.
Paterno had to address the unthinkable about a friend, career-long coworker and confidant. He had to accept his legacy and the program he devoted his adult life to build would be tainted. The right choice is seldom an easy one. Joe Paterno took the coward’s way out.
Consciously or unconsciously, Paterno set the tone. An act as heinous as the alleged rape of a defenseless child assumed euphemisms such as “something inappropriate” and later “horsing around.” The incident not acknowledged directly was not handled directly. No authorities were alerted. No one sought out the alleged victim. The only tangible punishment meted out, for a child allegedly getting raped in the locker room, was Sandusky having his keys taken away.
Penn State and, specifically, Paterno’s dereliction of duty are inconceivable. The only hope is that it was impaired decision-making or a breathtaking moment of thoughtlessness, rather than unfathomable depth of callousness and moral decay. If these allegations against Sandusky are true, Penn State’s administrators and, indirectly, Paterno let a purported pederast continue to prey on innocent children, children they knew he would have steady access to through his charity. There’s no justification for that. It would be inhuman.
Penn State stresses “Success with Honor.” The program has undoubtedly had its success, but there’s no honor here and there’s none as long as this regime persists. The moral implications of this story surpass anything under the NCAA’s jurisdiction. This is a tragic absence of leadership and a culture gone corrupt. Paterno’s legacy, his 400 wins and his program may be ground to dust by this scandal. That’s a tear drop in the ocean of pain the program’s negligence may have inflicted on just one child.
Joe Paterno abdicated responsibility before. Under the public spotlight, he’s in no position to do so again. He must resign, if not immediately at the end of the season. Penn State needs a clean slate, entirely new leadership and, judging from its actions through this mess, a vast recalibration of its priorities as an academic institution.
[Photo via Getty]