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Hours After Joe Paterno Announced His Looming Retirement, Penn State Fired Him

By Madeline Holler |

joe paterno, sandusky

Board of trustees tells Paterno to hang up his whistle and leave.

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.

The Case for Sticking Our Necks Out


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About Madeline Holler


Madeline Holler

Madeline Holler is a writer, journalist, and blogger. She has written for Babble since the site launched in 2006. Her writing has appeared in various other publications both online and in print, including Salon and True/Slant (now Forbes). A native of the Midwest, Madeline lives, writes, and parents in Southern California, where she's raising two daughters and a son. Read bio and latest posts → Read Madeline's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “Hours After Joe Paterno Announced His Looming Retirement, Penn State Fired Him

  1. Janet says:

    I completely agree with you. This story just get worse and worse. These people are mandated reporters so, disregarding the idea that anyone would allow 10 year old to be raped and not call the police, it is the law that they report it. I am not sure how they can live with themselves.

    And the first question asked when it was reported that “Joe-Pa” was fired was who would coach on Saturday? Shameful.

  2. Little Frogs says:


  3. Megan says:

    He is a football coach. Not the police and not a prosecutor. He witnessed nothing. He molested no one.

  4. Monica Bielanko says:

    @Megan – Be as clinical and legal as you like, he is a coach and furthermore, a HUMAN BEING, with a moral obligation to help a child whose life was completely ruined by someone on his staff. He could’ve quietly tipped off police when he suspected a university cover up but he did NOTHING because he didn’t want to rock the boat or ruin his great gig. Screw him.

  5. Little Frogs says:

    He was directly informed that someone saw this man raping a kid in the locker room and did nothing.

  6. DeathMetalMommy says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but if I had witnessed anything of the sort I wouldn’t sidle off and tell someone later. I would be charging in there and getting that child out of there right that second. Being the mother of three children, two of them boys, I would want anyone else to do the same.

    At least we have the grim satisfaction of knowing that Sandusky will be paying for these reprehensible and horrendous actions for the rest of his life.

  7. Madeline Holler says:

    Meagan, he witnessed nothing, molested no one and yet was compelled to go to the AD with the information. Paterno himself says he wishes he would have done more. So even he knows his hands aren’t clean.

  8. K. Annie says:

    Having read the Grand Jury report, I am more disturbed by the abuse and more confused by the hoopla surrounding Joe Paterno. It seems like there were many opportunities for MANY different adults to do more to stop Sandusky from serial child abuse. The board fired Joe Paterno to send a message, but what that message is, I don’t know. Are they also going to rename the Paterno library? Are they also going to give back the millions he donated to the school? Are they also going to get rid of his ice cream flavor in the creamery? I’m guessing not. So what does this gesture mean then? Too little, too late seems to be the general state of affairs in State College, but this firing certainly doesn’t make up for it, just simply shows how easy one “right thing” can equal not nearly enough.

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