Penn State’s board of trustees has fired Joe Paterno, a legendary football coach who put his and his school’s reputation above the law by allowing Jerry Sandusky, one of his former assistant coaches, to hang around naked with little boys, sometimes raping them.
The board also fired Penn State president Graham Spanier, who knew about at least one instance of rape, according to a grand jury report, but chose not to report the crime.
Penn State’s board should be commended for this harsh end to Paterno’s career, something the coach himself thought he could apparently ease himself out of.
Hours before he was fired, Paterno announced he would retire … at the end of the season … so that the board wouldn’t have the extra burden of defending his continued employment while it conducted an inquiry. But Wednesday night, the trustees announced it was over — not only for Paterno but also for Spanier, the Penn State president. This appears to be the first act of common decency related to any official action Penn State or anything with some kind of authority at the school has taken on behalf of justice for the at least 8 boys who have come forward with allegations that Sandusky sexually assaulted them.
Paterno’s defensive coordinator Tom Bradley will serve as head coach for the rest of the season.
Before he knew he would be fired, Paterno was apologetic and wistful. He said in a statement Wednesday: “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.”
While the “this is a terrible shame, but!” stories come pouring in, let’s not forget Paterno, a football coach, actually understands the value of hindsight. In his business, hindsight is known as Monday morning quarterbacking, and it’s generally regarded as meaningless. To wish he had done more implies that Paterno had done something, anything. The truth is, he did nothing.
Paterno was a revered, important and powerful person not only in college football, but at Penn State and in his town. It was in his power to stop Sandusky, to bring him to justice. Joe Pa knows this now and he knew it then. But when a graduate student assistant told him that he had witnessed Sandusky raping a boy in the locker room showers, he didn’t go to the police. He went to the university president. Even after it was clear the president wasn’t going to the police, Paterno sat on that information. He covered it up.
For that, getting fired should be the first and not final consequence of this cowardly, selfish man’s inaction. A tarnished history is a fair ending to the institution that let it happen.