Assuming that the allegations against Jerry Sandusky are true, there was a monster in our midst and none of us knew it. Assuming the reports are correct, Sandusky was caught doing horrible things to children at least twice by Penn State employees on the Penn State campus and the University failed to investigate. And now an attempt by the University to look the other way and pretend that nothing bad had happened has backfired in a way that none of those involved had anticipated.
This is probably a good time for me to make abundantly clear that I find Sandusky's alleged behavior disgusting and deplorable. There is nothing ok about using your position of power and authority to abuse children. There is nothing ok about a sexual predator being allowed to continue work with at-risk youth after the first allegation was raised.
And while I am sickened by Jerry Sandusky's decades of abuse, I find myself sad that Joe Paterno's career is ending because he only did what he had to and not what he should have done. Because Joe didn't stand up to his boss and his boss's boss based on the word of a graduate assistant, his entire legacy is tarnished.
Let's remember that Joe did not commit a crime. Frankly, if the coach at a school like Miami or Auburn found himself in the exact same situation, no one would be rounding up a lynch mob or even raising an eyebrow. Joe's big crime here is not living up to his own high standards.
And to those like Piers Morgan who think that Joe doesn't deserve to be remembered as anything but "a guy who helped cover up sickening child abuse," I ask you to consider whether you think you should be remembered by your biggest mistake. Do you think you should be forced out of a job you have done (and done well) for most of your life because you went along with the decisions of the person responsible for your employment? Have you ever looked back and thought, "yeah, I could have handled _____ better. I'm glad I got a second chance?"
Unfortunately, Penn State's failure to act in the first place changed the story from "former PSU assistant coach abused a child" to "Penn State Sex Scandal Cover-Up Involves Coach, Administration." I think Joe's decision to retire is what's best for the University community at this point. I think that Graham Spanier, Mike McQueary (who, amazingly, is exactly as "guilty" as Joe and possibly more considering he parlayed an assistant job to a coaching job at the exact time of these allegations), and whomever was running The Second Mile nine years ago should step down.
In the statement he released today, Joe said:
“I am absolutely devastated by the developments in this case. I grieve for the children and their families, and I pray for their comfort and relief...
This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."
To me as a once and future Penn State student, Joe Paterno will always be more than just a football coach with a lot of wins. He'll be the man whose personal donations doubled the size of the Penn State library. He'll be a class act - the coach with higher standards of conduct than anyone else coaching today. He'll be the ultimate Penn Stater. He's larger than life...a living legend. He is Penn State.