I was hoping I’d never have to write this piece, but recent revelations regarding the Penn State cover-up of Jerry Sandusky’s sexual predations dictate that I do.
If the information uncovered by the Freeh investigation is accurate—and I’ve little reason to believe it isn’t—then Joe Paterno did indeed take an active part in hiding the deeds of his assistant coach. Deeds that were both illegal and monstrous.
The damaging evidence can be inferred from the “Timeline” section of the report on page 23, wherein the plan devised by University President Graham Spanier, Vice President Gary Schultz, and Athletic Director Timothy Curley on February 26, 2001 includes a three-fold action: 1. Confront Sandusky, 2. Notify the Department of Public Welfare (DPW), 3. Notify the Board of the Second Mile Foundation.
However, this plan is “downgraded” to just confronting Sandusky after it is discussed with Paterno. The ‘new’ plan is to offer Sandusky professional help. If Sandusky does not then cooperate, the notifications to the DPW and Second Mile can proceed.
I read this as Paterno having the ultimate authority here. What else could I infer?
I at first gave Paterno the benefit of the doubt—doubt motivated by my lack of knowledge about what exactly he knew, and what exactly he could have done. I believed he followed the rules strictly and took what action he was mandated to take.
Now, e-mails attributed to Paterno indicate that he not only advised those around him to keep silent about Sandusky’s crimes, but his inaction even allowed this predator to continue his odious assaults for more than 10 years following the discovery of the crime.
The Freeh report states that the four most powerful people at the university—Spanier, Schultz, Curley, and Paterno—failed to protect against a child sexual predator for more than a decade! These men failed to notify the school’s Board of Trustees about allegations against Sandusky.
I initially defended Paterno’s actions, saying that he did what was required. But it appears now that he did not. He may have even been complicit in the crimes by his colluding with university officials in concealing the abominable actions of another—another over whom he obviously had some control.
Cover-ups beget cover-ups; lies beget lies. And now Paterno’s legacy is taking on the shape of someone who aided and abetted a serial rapist. Although the executives of the college—the president, vice president, and athletic director—were making the Lion’s share (pun intended) of decisions, it’s Paterno’s legacy that most people around the nation are interested in.
As one who has been a fan of Penn State football since childhood, and one who has admired Joe Paterno for almost half a century, what do I now request? Say it ain’t so, Joe?
So what do we do now? The legal system has taken care of Sandusky, and I believe it will soon do likewise for other culpable figures. But Paterno died months ago.
Legal punishment is impossible, but the school, its untold numbers of students and supporters, need to take more action; action outside the law, if you will. The prominent debate on that score is now revolving around the bronze statue of Paterno that is captioned with the words, “Educator, Coach, Humanitarian.”
Should the statue stay or go? Paterno did a lot of great things while at Penn State, not the least of which was endowing a library with a lot of his own effort and money. And he won a lot of football games, including two national titles. So perhaps the sculpture can remain.
But if it does, considering his failure to protect the young boys that came under his assistant coach’s influence, and his conspiracy with those around him to cover up that coach’s crimes, it is not unreasonable to suggest removing the first and last words of the statue’s caption.
Much the same as the stripes are ripped from a soldier’s sleeve when he is disgraced and reduced in rank, Paterno’s sleeve should be stripped of the labels Educator and Humanitarian.
Library notwithstanding, he failed to educate Sandusky’s victims to the danger of the man.
And that is flagrantly inhuman.