Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Joe Paterno Must Go--Today

Coach Joe Paterno at the 2006 Penn State
Homecoming Game against U of Illinois
By now, anyone who’s up on the news is aware of the scandal involving recently rediscovered accusations of sexual abuse of young boys on the campus of Penn State University, allegedly committed by a then-member of the Penn State football coaching staff. It appears that, in one or more instances, this abuse was reported to head Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, who passed the allegations to his athletic director—and no farther.

Everyone agrees that Paterno fulfilled his legal responsibility by informing his athletic director (who, allegedly, did not pass this information farther on to the police). But the issue to focus on is Paterno’s moral responsibility, and here it seems that Paterno left his responsibility unfulfilled, in a catastrophic display of loyalty to the Penn State football program, over the protection of children from sexual abuse.

Paterno has alleged that the information given to him about the incident was too general to merit contacting the police. Others deny that as an issue of fact. Even if the material were general, however, as David Jones, a sports reporter for the Patriot-News put it in an article today 

Purely from an ethical standpoint, how specific did the story need to be for Paterno to simply immediately call police himself?

Had it been his grandson in the shower with [coach] Sandusky [the alleged abuser] and McQueary [the student observing the abuse] reported to him any version of inappropriate behavior, would Paterno have merely called his technical “superior” and left it at that?

Would [athletic director] Curley and Gary Schultz, Penn State’s vice president of finance and director of the university police force, still have finally gotten around to meeting with McQueary “approximately one and a half weeks later”?

In the midst of all of this, sports blogger Matt Hinton reports that Paterno is headed for a resignation—but look carefully for what Hinton says about the timing:

According to the New York Times, Penn State's board of trustees has initiated discussions about how to handle the 84-year-old standard bearer's exit "within days or weeks," amid allegations that Paterno effectively turned a blind eye to charges of sexual abuse by his longtime defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky. Another report, by the Associated Press, describes support for Paterno among the board as "eroding." The precise timing hasn't been determined, but the inevitable is a reality: Forty-six years after he was promoted to replace Rip Engle as Penn State's head coach, this season will be Joe Paterno's last. Saturday's game against Nebraska will be his final home game in Beaver Stadium.

But why should Paterno get a “last game” in? If Paterno’s behavior was such as to merit his resignation—and it most assuredly was—then his resignation, voluntary or forced, should be immediate. Joe Paterno should leave Penn State—today. No last game, no tribute, no nothing.

Oh, I can hear the moaning from misguided fans. “You’ve got to balance whatever Paterno may have done wrong against the rest of his career,” they’ll say; “he’s such a great man, surely you’ve got to recognize that and have some perspective and give him his last hurrah,” they’ll say.

No, I don’t. This is all just misguided rhetorical sobbing that obscured the mixed-up nature of our society’s priorities.

Folks, at the risk of stating the obvious: Football is a game. Period. Yes, it generates massive amounts of revenue, but at its core it is just as game. As a game, it cannot possibly be used to excuse Joe Paterno for not picking up the phone within five minutes of hearing even the wisp of a hint of an allegation of sexual abuse by one of his coaching staff. And the fact that Paterno did not do that should incur massive and immediate consequences.

It’s important to point out here that, if Paterno had called the police, this would likely have prevented sexual abuse. But he didn’t do that. And that kind of passivity when faced with the allegation of sexual abuse cannot, must not, be tolerated.

Anything other than insisting on Paterno’s immediate departure sends the message that football is ultimately more important than protecting children from sexual abuse. I surely don’t believe that. Do you?

If you agree that Joe Paterno should go immediately, without a victory lap, then call Penn State and express that opinion to Mr. Rodney A. Erickson, the Executive Vice President and Provost, who reports directly to the President; his office telephone number is 814-865-2505, and his fax number is 814-863-8583. (The President of Penn State, Mr. Graham Spanier, is facing calls for his own resignation in this scandal. I think you’ll have an easier time reaching Mr. Erickson.)

For good measure, you may wish to call the main Penn State telephone number (814-865-4700) and ask to speak with someone in the office of the Board of Trustees.

The message to leave with these Penn State officials: Dismiss Joe Paterno immediately, certainly before the game on Saturday. Don’t send the message that football is more important than protecting children from sexual abuse.

Putting the highest priority on the safety of innocent children is surely On The Mark.

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[The photo of Joe Paterno has been put into the public domain by its creator, and was obtained from Wikipedia.]

(Copyright 2011 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)


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