Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Say it ain't so, Joe

It is time for Joe Paterno to step down.

In title he's the head football coach at Penn State University. In reality he hasn't coached a football game in years.

The scandal involving former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky gets more sordid by the day. For those not familiar with the tale, while at Penn State, Mr. Sandusky headed up the Second Mile Foundation which sought to help at-risk youth. Children in the program were taken to home football games and given tours of Beaver Stadium.

While heading the foundation, Mr. Sandusky allegedly engaged in improper conduct with several young boys ranging from fondling to sexual assault. The most infamous of the assaults occurred in 2002, after Mr. Sandusky had left the coaching staff. A graduate assistant walked into the locker room and witnessed Mr. Sandusky sodomizing a young boy.

No one stopped the attack. The graduate assistant ran out of the locker room without confronting Mr. Sandusky. No one called the police. Mr. Paterno referred the matter to the athletic director, Tim Curley, who informed Senior VP for Finance and Business, Gary Schultz. Apparently someone spoke to Mr. Sandusky and told him not to bring kids from the Second Mile onto campus.

Yep. That'll stop it right there. Let's not notify the police that a former coach is raping young boys. Let's just take away his access to the stadium and let him do his nasty business somewhere else. After all, the last thing we want is to drag the university into a sex scandal.

That plan doesn't seem to have worked out too well.

Mr. Schultz and Mr. Curley have since been indicted for perjury for lying to a grand jury investigating Mr. Sandusky. Mr. Sandusky has been indicted on 40 counts related to his actions, including corruption of a minor and sexual assault.

Joe Paterno was under no legal obligation to contact police. But Mr. Paterno holds himself out as a molder of young men. He has been celebrated for "doing it the right way" at Penn State.

But, as Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitlock notes:
At age 75, Paterno sought plausible deniability from the allegations of criminal behavior inside the Penn State locker room of his 30-year employee. Rather than immediately demand that Sandusky appear and explain himself, the world-famous molder of men passed the responsibility along to the athletic director, who has far less real power than Paterno. Paterno could have done a helluva lot more. Rather than call the police, Paterno seemingly gathered as little information as possible and slipped back into his JoePa facade.
Now there are questions about just what the graduate assistant told Mr. Paterno that evening. Maybe he didn't know the extent of what Mr. Sandusky was doing. But Joe Paterno was the head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions. He was the face of the program.

But, when it came time to make a decision on whether or not to do the right thing, he punted. He chose not to deal with the situation. He delegated the responsibility to the athletic director - his boss in title only. Just as he has delegated coaching to his staff.

Joe Paterno should have resigned from his post years ago - back when he was actually coaching and not sitting with a pair of binoculars in the press box. But the time for resigning with honor has passed. It's time the university fire Mr. Paterno.

It's a sad end to a career. It's a permanent stain on his legacy. He had the chance to help his old friend. He had the opportunity to prevent other children from being harmed. He failed miserably on both counts.

Being a coach is more than diagramming plays. It's about teaching young people how to handle adversity. It's about teaching discipline. It's about training young men and women how to lead. It's about showing that hard work and dedication matter. It's about preparing young people for the challenges they will face in life. It's about being an example.

Unfortunately for Joe Paterno, the time has come for him to be an example. Just not the example anyone saw coming.

See also:

"Penn St. scandal should force Paterno out," Jason Whitlock, Fox Sports (11/7/2011)

"With no explanation for inaction, Joe Paterno must go now," Andy Staples, Sports Illustrated (11/8/2011)

"If parting with Paterno, do it now," Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports (11/8/2011)

"Penn State said to be planning Paterno exit amid scandal," New York Times (11/9/2011)

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