A few decades ago someone asked Joe Paterno why he was still coaching at Penn State University. His response was, "I don't want to leave college football in the hands of the Jackie Sherrills and Barry Switzers." He was referring to a couple of successful coaches who were widely regarded as playing fast and loose with NCAA regulations.
Unfortunately for at least five young boys, while Paterno was unwilling to leave college football in the hands of Sherrill and Switzer, it is becoming increasingly apparent he was willing to leave them in the hands of Jerry Sandusky.
Former FBI director Louis Freeh was hired by the university's trustees to look into this sordid affair. His conclusions will not make anyone on the campus either happy or comfortable. In fact they are so damning there is now actual talk of pulling down Paterno's statue that stands in front of the 106,000 seat Beaver Stadium. That such a thing might even be considered would have been unfathomable less than a year ago. At Penn State there was God in all His permutations and then there was Joe Paterno. Joe Pa. The only man besides Jesus Christ Himself who could do no wrong.
According to Freeh, despite testimony to the otherwise by Paterno himself, the old coach did know about a 1998 criminal investigation of Sandusky's conduct with children. Later, after assistant coach Mike McQuery reported he saw Sandusky having sex with a young boy in the Penn State showers, Freeh concludes that there was, "no attempt to identify victim two or to protect the child from similar conduct except related to preventing its recurrence on university property." Basically the powers that be at Penn State told him to take it off campus. In effect, get a room, Jerry.
The most damning evidence concerning Paterno's involvement came from an email written by then athletic director Tim Curley. According to the report, Curley, university president Graham Spanier, and vice president Gary Schultz were prepared to turn Sandusky into the state Department of Public Welfare. Curley backed out of that plan writing in an email that he had changed his mind, "after giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe." Curley then proposed the university offer Sandusky, "professional help."
In one of those cold blooded responses you can always count on from bureaucrats and politicians Spanier's answer was, "the only downside for us is if the message isn't heard and acted on and we become vulnerable for not having reported it."
There you have it. There was absolutely no consideration of what might be right or wrong. No empathy for the victim. Lets take care of our own, move on, and hope the "downside" doesn't catch up to us. It is a disregard for justice that rivals that of several dioceses of the Roman Catholic Church. Or, as Freeh wrote, "Although concern to treat the child abuser humanely was expressly stated no such sentiments were ever expressed for the victims."
Paterno's family are defending his name. They are throwing about terms like "misunderstood," "underestimated," and are saying Sandusky was a "great deceiver." It is weak tea at best. The image of the infallible Joe is gone forever. All those Paterno sermons about integrity and honor now seem at best hollow and at worst downright hypocritical.
Heads are going to roll because of all this. Curley and Schultz have been charged in the cover up and police are investigating Spanier. If he was alive, as unbelievable as it might seem, Paterno could well be facing a criminal indictment also.
Who knows why it really happened. Freeh says the main reason was to avoid bad publicity. Maybe, or maybe it was that the Penn State football program had become such a self contained, insulated, world that it considered calling in outsiders to police one of their own as something akin to heresy.
Whichever the case, the evidence is growing clearer and clearer that no one in Happy Valley gave a rat's ass about the kids. It was all about them. It was all about the institution and sanctity of Penn State football.
In their arrogant zeal to maintain the perfect image these guys not only destroyed that image, but also, perhaps, destroyed, themselves.
Pride before the fall.
And what a terrible fall it has been.