Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Fall of a hero

Penn State's Joe Paterno
Sad day.

If you haven't already heard, Penn State University is being rocked by an horrific scandal of pedophilia and hush-hush campus politics.  The story revolves around Jerry Sandusky, long-time defensive coordinator for the university's iconic football program.  Sandusky is charged by Pennsylvania state authorities with sexually assaulting eight boys over the course of 15 years.

Two other university officials, Tim Curley (former athletic director) and Gary Schultz (Vice-President of Business and Finance) also face charges of perjury related to the scandal.

Right now, the question for Penn State and for the country is this:  Can the university's revered head football coach, Joe Paterno, survive the scandal?

From the New York Times:
At age 84 and with 46 seasons as the Penn State head coach behind him, Paterno’s extraordinary run of success — one that produced tens of millions of dollars for the school and two national championships, and that established him as one of the nation’s most revered leaders, will end with a stunning and humiliating final chapter.

Jerry Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator under Paterno, has been charged with sexually abusing eight boys across a 15-year period, and Paterno has been widely criticized for failing to involve the police when he learned of an allegation of one assault of a young boy in 2002. --Read the whole story here.  Or, if you've got the stomach for it, you can read the Grand Jury report here.
Paterno has been cleared of criminal liability. According to testimony before the Grand Jury, when Paterno learned of the problem in 2002, he reported it to Curley, fulfilling his legal responsibility.  And there the matter lay for 9 years.

Well, Paterno's response may have fulfilled his legal responsibility, but there is a gaping chasm between that and his moral responsibility.  For God's sake!  A child was raped in your locker room, coach!

I've admired Joe Paterno since my college days, when the Penn State Nittany Lions football team was a national icon in college sports.  Paterno's teams weren't like those of less reputable programs.  The graduation rate at his program was a model for all college sports.  The idea that the program might tolerate some of the criminal shenanigans that occur at other campuses was unthinkable.  "Success with honor."  That's the Penn State motto.

Just two weeks ago, Paterno became the winning-est coach in college football history.  That admirable achievement is now rendered meaningless.

Michael Tomasky, of the Daily Beast said it very well, in his excellent piece:
I occasionally think, with no small amount of fear: I believe that I am a moral person, but if I am confronted some day with a situation that requires real moral bravery of me, where I really have to choose, and it will hurt—would I do the right thing? None of us knows until that moment comes. But when it comes, it comes, and nothing you’ve done up to that point matters anymore. --Read the column here.
Coach Paterno, you failed.  It breaks my heart.  But you failed.  Step down.

Those poor boys...

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