An Inexcusable Tragedy

“Success with Honor”

 For almost a half century, that has been the mantra of legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. Paterno, who became football coach in 1966, sought this culture on and off the football field, more concerned with creating fine, upstanding young men than winning football games. There was no more ethically responsible, ‘do it the right way’ collegiate athletic program in the country than Penn State.

Until now.

 Amid the severe and lurid allegations that former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky sexually abused several children during and after his time as a Penn State employee, there are many questions the media, the Penn State community, and most importantly, the victims and their families are asking. Having run a tight ship in State College for nearly fifty years, Paterno himself now must answer for his program.

 In 2002, a graduate assistant told Paterno that he witnessed Sandusky committing a sexual act with a young boy on campus in Penn State’s football training facility. As communicated by Paterno to the Grand Jury, he immediately reported the incident to higher authorities, athletic director Tim Curley and senior executive Gary Schultz.

This past Sunday, however, Paterno released a statement saying that the graduate assistant who allegedly saw Sandusky and the boy was ‘distraught’ upon telling Paterno what he saw, and that “[he at] no time related to me [Paterno] the very specific actions contained in the Grand Jury report.”

That doesn’t pass the smell test. Paterno didn’t ask for specifics when this graduate assistant came to him “distraught?” For someone who prided himself and his program on honor and ethical responsibility, that sure doesn’t add up.

 Yet most damning is the fact that once Paterno told Curley about the encounter, the authorities were not notified. Instead, Penn State officials brushed it under the rug, and simply ‘banned’ Sandusky from bringing children into the football facilities.

Curley and Schultz finally went to university president Graham Spanier—two weeks later—and told him that it was an incident involving “horseplay,” according to the indictment. Maybe that’s why Curley and Schultz face felony perjury charges. It wasn’t horseplay, and they lied under oath to protect themselves, and ultimately Paterno and the university.

The lines are clear. The Penn State football program was more afraid of losing this ‘image’ of high-standards, integrity, and honor, than doing the right thing and reporting this matter to the authorities. They put loyalty ahead of the victimization of a child. This is one of the gravest violations of an ethical and moral code, especially since its involving sexual abuse against children. There’s no denying the fact that, if true, Sandusky is a despicable and disgusting predator of the highest degree, who will receive his justice. But ultimately, the blame lies with Paterno.

For the man known simply and affectionately as JoePa, it is truly a heartbreaking way to end one of the most storied careers in all of sports. He gave so much of his own time and money to the Penn State community in the hopes of providing a great experience for all of the students who chose Penn State as their higher education choice. But, in the end, if the allegations are true, Paterno has to step down.

The children Sandusky abused will never be the same. Now, thanks to the inaction of several men, the once-revered Penn State football program, led by the man whose used ‘Success With Honor’ as his rallying cry, won’t be either.