University administrators are making a grave mistake in allowing Paterno to wait until the end of the season to retire
The Penn State scandal isn't a sports story, though much of the media has turned it into one by focusing on the best-known person connected to it: Joe Paterno, the winningest coach in college-football history. It does, however, share one important aspect with college sports' most troublesome and ongoing issue, the exploitation of college athletes: Both highlight the spinelessness of college administrators.
For decades now, whenever colleges have been faced with the revelation of students having accepted money from boosters, or gamblers having fixed games, or coaches having abused their power—or when they have faced the much larger issue of students' earning power being exploited by the universities' athletic departments—the official response always come down to university officials wringing their hands, making weepy speeches, and, ultimately saying, in effect, "Someone should do something about this."
Yes, you'd think someone would. You'd think that the university—the presidents and administrators and boards of trustees in charge of America's higher education—would take action, that they would stop letting their athletic departments, freely operating behind the fraudulent label of amateur athletics, dictate university policy.
As of today, which is either day five or year nine of the Penn State child sex abuse scandal, depending on when you start counting, it is being reported that Joe Paterno will resign—at the end of the football season. This Saturday the Nittany Lions play their final home game of the year against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. In all likelihood this would have been Paterno's last home game anyway, as he is 84 and some brave Penn State alumni have been hinting for more than a decade that it was time for him to bow out for the good of the program.
That, however, is not the point. Last night hundreds of deliriously misguided Penn State students met in front of Paterno's house and cheered the coach on. In any other season but this one, their actions would have seemed appropriate. In this season, in light of the fact that Paterno's former assistant coach and good friend Jerry Sandusky has been accused of raping at least nine young boys and that Paterno and university officials allegedly had knowledge of it and did nothing, makes the students seem deluded to the point of idiocy. I use idiocy in the sense that the Greeks intended it, as a moral failure.
By letting Paterno take the field Saturday, Penn State president Graham Spanier and his board of trustees will be causing massive and possibly irreparable damage to the reputation of their university. Spanier has already taken steps in that direction by stating, shortly after the grand jury indictments were announced, his public support for former athletic director Tim Curley and former senior vice president for finance and business (and head of campus police) Gary Schultz, a sure sign that Penn State officials are circling the wagons. Someone needs to tell them that it's far too late for that: The wagons are on fire.
Let's do a quick review of the major findings of the grand jury testimony that was released this weekend:
– Mike McQueary—a former Penn Sate quarterback under Paterno who was, at the time, a graduate assistant (and currently an assistant coach) - testified that on Friday March 1, 2002, he saw a former Penn State assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, at the time 58 years old, forcing anal intercourse on a boy that McQueary estimated to be ten years old in the showers of football team's locker room.
– Shaken, McQueary testified that he told his father, and, the next morning (Saturday) called head coach Paterno. (By the way, when McQueary goes down with the rest of the Penn State officials, remember that he did nothing to stop Sandusky in the moment.) At Paterno's home, McQueary says he related what he saw. Paterno, however, told the grand jury last spring that McQueary was simply "distraught" and wasn't "specific" about what he witnessed.
This places Paterno at the crux of the matter: He claims not to have understood what McQueary was telling him and made no effort to clarify.
– On Monday—not on March 2 but after waiting a day to mull it over—Paterno called Curley and reported on what McQueary had told him. It took several days, perhaps a couple of weeks, before McQueary was called into a meeting with Curley and Schultz. Whether or not they understood the gravity of what McQueary saw any more than Paterno said he did isn't known, but in any event, Curley and Schultz promised to "look into it."
The bottom line is that nothing was done, no action was taken except to take Sandusky's locker room keys away him and tell him not to bring boys from the Second Mile, an organization for at-risk boys that Sandusky had helped found, onto the campus. (Nonetheless, Sandusky was using the Penn State facilities as late as 2009.) President Spanier (the founding editor of the Journal of Family Issues) signed off on Curley's and Schultz's "remedial" actions.
– In 2009, a Pennsylvania woman filed charges accusing Sandusky of sexually abusing her 12-year-old son, and the findings of the grand jury were announced last Saturday. Sandusky was indicted on 40 counts related to sexual abuse of young boys over a 15-year period and immediately arrested and arraigned. Curley and Schultz were charged with felony perjury. The next day Curley asked for an administrative leave and Schultz left his post and "went back into retirement." They turned themselves into authorities on Monday.
The grand jury decided Paterno had "fulfilled his legal requirements when advised of the incident," but state police commissioner Frank Noonan bluntly said, "Somebody has to question about what I would consider the moral requirements for a human being that knows of sexual things that are taking place with a child.'' Spanier was not indicted, but state district attorney Linda Kelly has not ruled out that he might also be charged for failing to alert authorities of the accusations against Sandusky.
Which brings us to today and the Penn State football team's preparations for their game with Nebraska. Though it staggers the imagination for millions of Americans, Spanier and the Penn State Board of Trustees, at least as of this writing, seem to have every intention of letting Joe Paterno take the field Saturday to enjoy the adulation of more than 100,000 Penn State fans -- fans who apparently have not given a thought to what their feelings would be if any of the boys supposedly raped by Sandusky (and in truth we do not yet know how many victims there have been) were their sons, brothers, or nephews.
If Paterno had any measure of his wits about him, or any concern for his legacy to his family and university, he would have admitted that he made a terrible mistake when he did not personally follow-up on the Sandusky allegations and resign. Since he has not done so, Spanier should have announced days ago that Paterno's contract was being terminated. Spanier does not seem to have an inkling that he will be going down with Paterno and every other administrator who had knowledge of this hideous affair and did not act.
This isn't the athletic department's decision. It isn't the NCAA's decision. It is the decision of the people who are charged with the welfare of Penn State University. Spanier and the rest of the Board of Trustees are idiots. In every sense, but especially the Greek sense.