Paterno Stands Alone [Getty Images].
If you’re a giant sports fan, like myself, then you’ve probably found yourself drawn to ESPN, ESPN.com, ESPN on Demand, and ESPN’s Twitter page this week as you seek the latest developments in the Joe Paterno/Penn State scandal. The tragedy that has unfolded over the last couple of days is both shocking and disturbing. While I am not a Penn State graduate, I have plenty of family and friends who are, and they are pretty evenly divided about how the University has handled things thus far. No matter your college sports affiliation, all of us are left with questions. Was firing Joe Paterno the right decision? Who should be let go next? Will Penn State’s reputation be tarnished forever? Was the firing a strategic PR move or a lesson in morals and ethics?
For those of you who may have somehow missed the story that broke last Saturday, Penn State football defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, was charged with 40 counts of sexual abuse of children. Jerry Sandusky was an assistant coach at Penn State from 1969 until 1999 and worked under the famed 84-year old Paterno, who had himself been with the team since 1966 (that’s before nearly all of us were born). In 2002, Joe Paterno learned about a sexual abuse incident with Sandusky, and while he told the Penn State Director of Athletics, he failed to report it to law enforcement. On Tuesday, in what seemed like a preemptive move, Joe Paterno publicly announced that he would retire from football at the end of the season. While he did express remorse for the victims and expressed that with hindsight he wish he had done more, the Penn State Board of Directors made a decision that surprised many and fired Coach Paterno. Penn State students protested in the streets of State College.
Penn State’s Board of Directors claims that the decision to fire Paterno was in the best interest of the University. That remains to be seen. Paterno’s teams achieved five undefeated seasons and claimed national championships in 1982 and 1986. He is the all-time leader in college bowl victories with a record of 24-12-1 and in 2007 was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He has done a lot right by Penn State and their football fans, but how many ways was he wrong?
At a 1973 commencement Paterno addressed the graduates, "Success without honor is an unseasoned dish. It will satisfy your hunger, but it won't taste good.” An ironic statement coming from a coach who built a dynasty on playing with morals, ethics and honesty, but he himself could not give Sandusky’s victims that same respect.
Penn State’s reputation has imploded in less than a week and the memory will last at least a generation.