Janesville35.8°

For all the right reasons, Paterno must resign

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Tara Sullivan
November 8, 2011

Joe Paterno escaped the law’s long arm because legally, he did the right thing.


Morally and ethically, however, Paterno failed.


And now, as the most public face of Penn State, Paterno should pay for those failings with the job that has defined him for 46 years.


Whether it’s today, this Saturday following the season’s final home game or at the end of a season in which his nationally ranked football team is sure to reach another bowl game, Paterno must be finished coaching the Nittany Lions. Nearing his 85th birthday and long accustomed to calls for an overdue retirement, Paterno has no choice now but to surrender the vision of a stately ride into the sunset in exchange for a sad retreat into shame.


There is no other acceptable scenario for a program and a man built on the premise of “Success with Honor,” no stronger public statement to make that the university is ready to clean house, start over and change the culture of an institution that didn’t merely harbor an alleged sexual predator for years, but was complicit in allowing the monster to further his secret reign of terror on young, defenseless boys.


If prosecutors are correct, Jerry Sandusky is the true villain here, the onetime Penn State defensive coordinator, alleged pedophile and alleged child rapist who was charged Saturday with sexually abusing eight boys during a 15-year period. But the sickening truth to emerge from the 23-page grand jury report released over the weekend is how plainly Sandusky could have been stopped, if only someone at Penn State had the courage, conviction or character to report him to the police.


Paterno chose to relay only to his immediate superior what he’d been told in 2002 about a naked Sandusky with a young boy in the shower, a legally justifiable move that freed the iconic coach from the criminal tentacles now suffocating Penn State’s very existence, tentacles that already have ensnared Sandusky and forced athletic director Tim Curley and senior vice president Gary Schultz to resign their positions Monday.


But once you hear that flimsy defense—“Legally, he did the right thing”—how can you not ask Paterno the next question? Did he do the right thing morally? Did he do the right thing ethically? After a news conference held by state officials Monday, it’s clear we are not the only ones looking for those answers.


After confirming Paterno’s legal safety, Pennsylvania State Police commissioner Frank Noonan told The Associated Press, “But somebody has to question about what I would consider the moral requirements for a human being that knows of sexual things that are taking place with a child.”


Added Noonan, “I think you have the moral responsibility, anyone. Not whether you’re a football coach or a university president or the guy sweeping the building. I think you have a moral responsibility to call us.”


Paterno will face those difficult questions Tuesday, when his regularly scheduled weekly appointment with the press takes place in the same football halls where Sandusky once roamed. But forget Saturday’s upcoming senior day against Nebraska; forget football. Reporters from across the nation and across the news spectrum are expected to descend on Un-Happy Valley, and they will be relentless in their quest to understand: What did Paterno know, and when did he know it?


Sunday’s statement from the coach, in which he tried to explain why the 2002 conversation with then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary didn’t send him running to police, fell far short of explaining his decision. Though it’s believable McQueary didn’t provide the same graphic detail to Paterno as he did to the grand jury of witnessing Sandusky sodomizing a boy in the shower, the coach clearly knew something was wrong.


Paterno: “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.”


Something inappropriate.


Isn’t that enough? Isn’t that enough to go to officials other than a university administrator? Isn’t that enough to haunt you for years to come, wondering if you’d done enough to stop a lurking predator? Isn’t that enough to make you cry for the young victim whose identity no one ever even bothered to discover?


Civilized society demands that we protect our children above all, that we keep our most defenseless segment of our population free from sexual predators, free from this insidious form of abuse that steals childhoods forever. Though we cannot reverse abuse that has happened, we can offer help to the victims, we can alert the authorities, we can do our best to prevent future victims. We can do that only by ripping away the secrecy, and shining the light on the cockroaches and exposing them to the fullest extent of our laws.


At Penn State, the shroud of protection was layered over the university instead, the energy of officials was spent on saving the university’s image at the expense of a child’s safety and innocence.


Mythology over integrity, a shameful choice.


There were many who failed at Penn State, so many who should be swept out of their jobs while a once-proud university turns toward a new era of transparency and truth. Paterno, the school’s must public face, has to be among them.



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