Penn State Should Fire Joe Paterno

by Nathan Harden

At first, when reports began to emerge last week of the abominable abuse of young boys at Penn State, I assumed there was no way Joe Paterno could be responsible for the fact that no one reported an eye-witness account of abuse to law enforcement. Paterno is not only a legend on the football field, but is widely looked up to as a decent, morally upstanding individual — he has never been struck with a major NCAA rules violation in more than 45 years of coaching. Now, in the wake of the scandal, Paterno has agreed to retire at the end of the year.

That’s not good enough, I’m afraid.

On one hand, it doesn’t look like Paterno did anything illegal. When a graduate assistant allegedly discovered an assistant coach raping a ten-year-old in the locker-room shower, and reported it to Paterno, Paterno did report the incident to his boss, athletic director Tim Curley (who now stands accused of perjury in a related case). But Paterno didn’t call the police. He didn’t confront Joe Sandusky, his former defensive coordinator, who now stands accused of using a youth football charity as a front for ensnaring and raping somewhere between eight and 16 young boys. In fact, Paterno continued to allow Sandusky to access Penn State athletic facilities. Sandusky was reportedly still working out at the team’s training facility as recently as last week. That is unacceptable. As Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated put it, “Even if the accusation was false, Paterno had a responsibility to make sure it was thoroughly investigated.

We don’t know exactly what Paterno knew and when. But we know he didn’t do enough. When the safety of young kids is at stake, a half-hearted effort to report the matter to a superior simply isn’t adequate. Looking the other way, and maintaining cordial relations with someone you have reason to suspect is an active child molester, is not something we can excuse. I have no doubt Paterno is shocked and ashamed now that we are learning the full scope of Sandusky’s abuse of children, much of which seems to have taken place in the locker room at Penn State. Surely Paterno didn’t understand what was really going on.

I admire Paterno’s legacy on the field. He has won more football games than any coach in Division 1 history. And I think he’s a decent, well-meaning man. I’m sure he wishes he could go back in time and do what he should have done then. But the fact is, some years ago, Paterno had urgent cause to act in the defense of children. Instead, he seems to have given an old friend the benefit of the doubt. He didn’t do enough. Therefore he has to go.

In fact, Penn State is in the midst of an overdue house cleaning.

— Tim Curley, the athletic director, also failed to call police. He is currently on administrative leave. He has to go.

— University senior vice president Gary Schultz, like Curley, stands accused of lying to a grand jury about the Sandusky case. He has resigned.

— Graham Spainer, the president of Penn State, was informed of the allegations years ago and did nothing. He should resign immediately or be fired.

It’s natural for us, as humans, to feel disbelief when faced with evidence that someone we know is a child abuser. But as we’ve seen with the scandals in the Catholic Church in recent years, operating under a code of silence, dealing quietly and mildly with such men, protecting oneself and one’s institution from liability at all costs — this kind of response only puts more kids in danger.

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