Finally, at least 13 years too late, Penn State figured out that football can’t always come first.
By announcing the immediate end of Joe Paterno’s reign and the departure of university president Graham Spanier, PSU’s board of trustees put the victims of Jerry Sandusky’s alleged sex crimes ahead of the money-printing football program.
The late-night announcement was the culmination of five breathtaking, gut-wrenching days for the university and its legendary football coach. The unsealing of a grand jury report was the sealing of Paterno’s fate. Along with 40 counts of sexual abuse against Sandusky, the report contained stunning revelations about Paterno, Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and administrator Gary Shultz.
It was clear from that moment on that the 46-year Paterno era was over. It was only a matter of when.
Paterno attempted to pre-empt the board of trustees earlier Wednesday, announcing that he would retire at the end of the season. But it was unthinkable that Paterno would coach Saturday’s game against Nebraska as if everything was normal.
Things are not normal at Penn State, and they won’t be for a very long time.
The dismissal of Paterno and forced resignation of Spanier were necessary steps, if you put the victims first.
Put the victims first and Paterno’s entire staff must go, as well. There is no way to untangle the threads here, no way to be sure who knew what or when they knew it. They all have to go in order for the football program, the athletic department and the entire university to have a chance for a fresh start.
Put the victims first and the school should decline any bowl invitation the team’s winning record may earn it. That may seem harsh or unfair to the innocent current players, but that pales in comparison to turning a pregame week in Tampa or Pasadena or Glendale into another media circus that adds to the burden of Sandusky’s victims.
Not convinced? Don’t listen to me. Listen to the mothers of two of the victims who testified to the grand jury that indicted Sandusky. Interviewed by the Harrisburg Patriot-News, they had no idea there were other victims, or opportunities for Sandusky to be stopped, until the grand jury report was released.
“I’m so upset,” said the mother of a now 24-year-old identified as Victim Six by the grand jury. “My son is extremely distraught, and now to see how we were betrayed, words cannot tell you.” Spanier’s initial defense of Curley and Shultz, she said, “just makes them victims all over again.”
Victim One’s alleged abuse began after Mike McQueary witnessed Sandusky raping a boy in 2002, after Paterno passed the buck to Curley and Shultz and they did nothing.
“I’m infuriated that people would not report something like that,” Victim One’s mother told the Patriot-News. “I still can’t believe it. I’m appalled. I’m shocked. I’m stunned. There’s so many words. I’m very mad. They could have prevented this from happening.”
Her son, she said, is “very angry. When I read the indictment, I was very shocked that there was so many people that didn’t do anything ... and there had to be more people covering it up, I think, for him to get away with it for this long.”
It was unthinkable to ask these anguished mothers, their traumatized sons and the other victims to watch Paterno get treated like a hero by the partisan crowd in Happy Valley Saturday. They should not have to see and hear another round of media coverage at the Whatever Bowl.
It is all so shocking. Sandusky was investigated by police in 1998, but not charged. It strains credulity that Paterno was unaware of that episode, especially considering Sandusky’s sudden retirement after that season, at age 55.
Four years and some number of victims later, McQueary witnessed an assault, told Paterno and nothing was done again. Except that McQueary, then a graduate assistant, was offered and accepted a fulltime job.
The appearance of a deliberate coverup is impossible to ignore. That the inaction allowed further incidents of alleged abuse is inarguable. There was no reasonable way for Paterno to coach a game with all of that hanging over him and his program.
Even in the prepared statement he released early Wednesday, Paterno fell back on classic coachspeak. “With the benefit of hindsight,” he said, as if the issue were going for it on fourth-and-goal, “I wish I had done more.”
Hindsight? To call the police when a child is raped required hindsight? That’s just not good enough.
The victims and their families are the ones who really wish Paterno and the rest had done more. They’re the ones who paid. For that, Paterno lost the right to go out on his own terms. When you think about the consequences suffered by everyone else in this sick sad mess, he’s getting off easy.
Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, “Philabuster,” at http://go.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan