Joe Paterno, the 84-year-old coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions has been ousted in the wake of a growing sex scandal involving one of his former defensive coordinators Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky was arrested over the weekend and faces mounting charges of criminal sexual abuse of children as more Sandusky victims come forward to law enforcement authorities.
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Sandusky had served under Paterno as the school’s defensive coordinator for many years. In addition, he had founded a non-profit organization whose mission it was to help vulnerable, disadvantaged youth in the area. Unfortunately, Sandusky’s arrest has revealed that he used the non-profit as a fertile grooming process in which he could seduce and sodomize these young boys.
In 2002, a graduate assistant who is now the wide receivers coach for the Penn State football team went to Paterno with the news that he witnessed Sandusky in the showers with a young boy. The graduate assistant had witnessed the young boy being sodomized by Sandusky.
Rather than call law enforcement, Paterno chose to contact the athletic director. Under Pennsylvania law, that’s what he was minimally required to do. However, as a coach and a human being, his responsibility was much greater and everyone save Paterno seemed to recognize that. His offer of resignation at the end of the football season was correctly seen by the college’s Board of Trustees as “too little, too late.” He had to go and go now. So, late Wednesday evening, November 9, 2011, Paterno and the college president Graham Spanier were fired effective immediately.
Unlike other institutions faced with a sexual abuse scandal involving children, Penn State did the right thing. The Catholic Church continues to face sex abuse lawsuits precisely because they continue to ignore the fact that failures to report are unacceptable and morally reprehensible. Penn State could not have allowed Paterno to finish the season. That would have allowed the cancer to grow. It (Paterno) needed to be excised and immediately.
Unfortunately, Paterno’s inability to recognize this will undoubtedly tarnish his legacy. He will be forever associated with this failure to protect children. Just like Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, Paterno will be recognized and remembered for this failure and his inability to put the safety of children before his own career and Penn State football.