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JoePa is no more.
Yes, Joe Paterno was fired as head coach of the Penn State football team last night. But that wasn’t the story. The story was the reaction.
Like many others last night I was glued to the television screen. The press conference with the Penn State Board of Trustees was like a bad movie. Make that a terrible movie that starred Paul Walker as a budding young journalist whose heart was completely in the wrong place.
I watched as local reporters, filled with outrage, snarled question after question about Joe Paterno and the football team. I watched as John Surma, vice president of the board of trustees, attempted to defuse the passionate fans that had also gathered.
But there was no defusing this crowd.
Not long after Surma announced the end of Paterno’s coaching career, students began to take to the streets. It started peacefully, with rally cries for their beloved coach. They gathered in front of his statue. They gathered outside of his house. They gathered in the streets.
I saw an outpouring of support for a man unlike any I’ve ever seen. Students were crying. They were angry. They tore down street signs and flipped over news vans. Their coach of 62 years (46 as a head a coach) was gone. And with him a legacy that seemed infallible. I mean who could touch Paterno? He was the face of not just the Penn State football team, but an entire university.
Michael Weinreb wrote a piece for Grantland that everyone should read. A Penn State alum, he talked about what Paterno meant to the school and its fans:
“It is a far better institution than it was when I graduated in the mid-1990s, and, despite everything we’ve learned in the past week, you cannot deny that a great deal of that has to do with Joe Paterno.”
No, you cannot deny it. Paterno was everything for Penn State. He was a coach, a teacher, a role model. Hell, he was an idol. And that’s why Paterno should have done more.
By now you know the story. In 2002, then graduate assistant Mike McQueary told Paterno that he had seen Paterno’s retired defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky performing sexual acts on a 10-year-old boy in the football team’s showering facilities. Paterno then passed the information along to the higher ups. But no direct action was taken. Unless you consider athletic director Tim Curley’s decision that Sandusky not bring any children to the football stadium a direct action.
And that was nine years ago.
Sandusky is now indicted on 40 counts of sex crimes against young boys. And more and more allegations materialize by the day.
I don’t know what Paterno knows, or what McQueary told him exactly. Paterno says he did not know the specifics of what Sandusky did. Well, why didn’t you find out?
You see the problem is this isn’t another student athlete getting paid behind the counter story. Or a cover up of a football player’s sexual exploits at night clubs. We see coaches cover for players and staff all the time. The football community is a tight niche. They stand up for each other.
But what happened in 2002 was a truly innocent victim. A 10-year-old had his childhood stripped from him. This was the time for the football staff to abandon their niche. This was the time for Paterno and his staff to step up for a victim who could not step up for himself. This was a time for the man, the myth, the legend to live up to all of those things.
Paterno did not.
And he’s not the only one.
Sandusky seems like the real monster in all of this of course. He maintains his innocence but the evidence looks damning.
And there are others I can see at fault. Why didn’t McQueary not pursue the matter more? Why didn’t the athletic director and president and so on and so on.
Yes, Paterno was not the only one. Penn State president Graham Spanier was fired Wednesday. But Spanier is not the face of Penn State. Neither is athletic director Tim Curley.
It is my opinion that Penn State did what they had to do in firing Paterno. The face of an institution failed and the consequences were devastating. Paterno admitted he could have done more. Think about the victims. Think about what they lost.
Paterno will be ok. His wife stood by him as reporters camped outside his house. Hundreds of loyal students waited for hours just to see his face again. His football legacy speaks for itself. Most games coached. Most games won.
But allowing Paterno to coach the rest of the season like he wanted would have been more devastating for the university.
I respected Paterno. I lost a lot of that when this story came out. And maybe he will be exonerated as more evidence and details come out. But in light of what we know, Joe had to go.
Just don’t forget the real victims here. Don’t forget about the kids.
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