Last night, legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was fired in the aftermath of the sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the university. Thousands of students reacted by rioting, throwing rocks and overturning a news van, shouting, “We want JoePa!” Their loyalty is disturbing. Joe Paterno, yes, has a reputation for being one of the greatest coaches in college football history; he chose to “protect” that reputation by not turning a child rapist into the police.
For those of you who haven’t been following along, here are the disturbing details. According to the grand jury testimony of Mike McQueary, a former graduate assistant coach to the Nittany Lions, in 2002, he came upon assistant coach Jerry Sandusky anally sodomizing a 10-year-old boy in the Penn State locker room showers. (Sandusky founded and ran a children’s charity called Second Mile, through which he met all of his victims.) McQueary immediately went to Coach Paterno and reported what he saw. Paterno, in turn, told school athletic director, Tim Curley. Curley and Gary Schultz, who oversaw the school police department, decided — with the approval of school president Graham Spanier — that the only action they would take would be to ban Sandusky from bringing any more children from Second Mile to the football building.
No one went to the police. Sandusky continued to coach at Penn State until his retirement in 1999, but retained access to the school’s athletic facilities and even hosted a summer camp for boys at a satellite campus from 2002 to 2008. Sandusky was finally arrested this month on 40 counts of molesting eight young boys over a 15-year period after one of the victims came forward in 2009. Curley and Schultz resigned after being charged with failing to report the crime to police and for lying to a grand jury. Paterno (and Spanier) was not charged, but following criticism for his actions (or lack thereof), Paterno said that he “wished he had done more in hindsight” and announced that he would retire … at the end of the season. Last night, the Penn State Board of Trustees decided that wasn’t good enough and removed him from his position as head coach effective immediately. Shortly thereafter, upwards of 2,000 students swarmed the streets of State College in protest. Here are a few quotes from an article in today’s New York Times:
“Make no mistake, the board started this riot by firing our coach. They tarnished a legend.” — Jeff Heim, 19
“It’s not fair. The board is an embarrassment to our school and a disservice to the student population.” — Justin Muir, 20
“I’m here because I just need to be with the rest of my school right now. This is devastating for us.” — Kathryn Simpson
“Of course we’re going to riot. What do they expect when they tell us at 10 o’clock that they fired our football coach?” — Paul Howard, 24
You know what, Jeff Heim? Joe Paterno tarnished his own reputation by putting it ahead of his moral duty. And you know what’s really unfair, Justin Muir? That 20 of the reported incidents of sexual assault took place while Sandusky was still employed by Penn State, including after his superiors turned a blind eye to his actions. As for what I find devastating, Kathryn Simpson? That an as yet undetermined number of sexual assaults could have been prevented if just one of these men — including Joe Paterno — had gone to the police.
Oh, and how were you expected to react, Paul Howard? How about like a human being with a soul who understands that protecting children from sexual abuse is far more important than football.