Should Joe Paterno Have Been Fired?

Filed Under (The HELL You Say!) by Chip Wood on 18-11-2011

If you read the grand jury report, you would probably say hanging would be too good for Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno’s longtime assistant football coach at Penn State. I suspect you would want him drawn and quartered, with salt poured over the body parts. The thought of a trusted adult taking advantage of his position to sexually molest young boys is absolutely sickening. The grand jury report said that Sandusky abused at least eight boys over a 15-year period. Since the scandal erupted, more young men have accused the former coach of equally heinous behavior.

If the news reports are to be believed, Sandusky was a serial pedophile whose perversions were known to head coach Paterno and his staff, as well as top university officials. There had even been some sort of investigation back in 1998. Yet nothing was done to stop him.

Can there be any possible excuse for such willful blindness on the part of so many supposedly responsible people?

Yet several things about this whole horrible story give me pause. First, whatever happened to the presumption of innocence? Isn’t one of the bedrock principles of our justice system that you’re innocent until proven guilty?

Try telling that to Sandusky or to all of the people who have been affected by this terrible story, including the students, coaches, players, alumni, teachers and administrators at Penn State.

As I write this, Sandusky maintains he is innocent. He has admitted to nothing more than “horsing around” with the boys. “I enjoy being around children,” he explained. “I enjoy their enthusiasm. I just have a good time with them.” Finally, reluctantly, he admitted, “I shouldn’t have showered with those kids.”

Sandusky no doubt will get his day in court. He will have an opportunity to face his accusers, present a defense and learn his fate from a jury of his peers. Of course, it will be too late to salvage his reputation, restore his career or protect the foundation he founded.

But what about Paterno? If “innocent until proven guilty” were true, he would still have his job. Hundreds of college students (who clearly have their priorities screwed up) wouldn’t have gone on a rampage when he was fired.

Please note that these young people — among the best and brightest in the country, from some of our finest families — weren’t furious because a longtime assistant coach at Penn State had repeatedly raped little boys. They weren’t indignant because all of the proper authorities, including Paterno, had behaved in a very improper manner.

No, they didn’t take to the streets to protect the innocent or to protest on the children’s behalf. They were behaving like spoiled brats because their football coach had been canned.

Sure, I feel sorry for JoePa, as he is affectionately known. One of the most amazing athletic records of all time will be sullied forever. This is a guy who spent 62 years of his life doing the one thing he wanted most to do: coach football at Penn State.

Since becoming head coach 46 years ago, his teams won a record 409 victories, including two national championships and all five major bowl games: Rose, Orange, Cotton, Sugar and Fiesta. He was the first college football coach named “Sportsman of the Year” by Sports Illustrated magazine. Four years ago, at the age of 80, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Now, the Big Ten has announced that his name will be removed from its championship football trophy. There will be no more Paterno Championship Trophy. Effective immediately, it is the Stagg Championship Trophy. The choice is a bit of a head-scratcher. Do you know Stagg’s full name? And when and where he coached? (The answer: Amos Alonzo Stagg, the University of Chicago, 1892-1932.)

By the way, Nike says it is standing by Paterno and has no plans to rename the building it named in his honor at its Beaverton, Ore., headquarters. But I’ll bet Nike executives wish they had chosen something other than the Joe Paterno Child Development Center to salute him.

There have been a ton of suggestions about what should happen next. Two of the craziest appeared in a column by Joe Nocera in The New York Times. One of Nocera’s ideas was that Penn State should show how sorry it is for what happened by canceling all of next season’s football games. How would that help anyone?

And Nocera wants Penn State to take all the money it makes from football (about $50 million a year) and use it to create a compensation fund for anyone who was hurt by Sandusky’s abusive behavior.

The claimants would line up for miles. I shudder to think about the depraved stories some people would concoct — and the media would gladly publicize — to get their hands on some of that loot.

It is ironic that so many officials tried to protect an institution (and a football program) they say they loved by ignoring a pedophile in their midst. Their willful blindness (and, some allege, deliberate perjury) got their college president and revered football coach fired. How much worse will the damage be? Only time will tell.

Did Paterno deserve to be fired? Yes. As the man himself said, “I wish I had done more.” I wish he had, too.

Until next time, keep some powder dry.

Chip Wood


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