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Published: Wednesday, 11/9/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

COMMENTARY

Paterno failed to fulfill moral obligations

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

Joe Paterno was -- past tense now obvious -- the most powerful college football coach in America. He was the most powerful individual on his campus. He was the most powerful man in so-called Happy Valley.

There is really only one way that happens. Sure, longevity is part of it. Sure, winning is part of it. Sure, the economics of college athletics and keeping the mint churning is part of it.

But the only way Joe Paterno becomes the most powerful man on Penn State's campus, the most influential man in State College, a pretty, time-stands-still town in the rolling mountains of north-central Pennsylvania where virtually everything revolves around football, is the expectation that he wield that power responsibly and wisely and with benevolence.

For 46 seasons as Penn State's head coach, it was perceived that Paterno did just that.

Now, by all indications, in at least one instance, he did not.

As a result, JoePa is done. It may be minutes or hours or weeks, but he is done. The greatest coach in major college history will go down like so many lesser coaches before him in the throes of a scandal.

Based on what we know, the 84-year-old Paterno deserves this end.

A 10-year-old child was sexually assaulted on Penn State's campus in 2002. The unspeakable act was witnessed by a 28-year-old graduate assistant coach, according to the Pennsylvania state grand jury indictment. For whatever reasons, the graduate assistant, identified as current offensive assistant Mike McQueary, apparently elected not to run into the showers in the football facility, rescue the child, and beat the living crap out of the well-known perpetrator. But he did go to Paterno, who also elected not to beat the snot out of the perpetrator, who the grand jury indictment identifies as his former defensive coordinator.

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Paterno did take the information to his titular boss, the athletic director, and it went up the ladder from there. Paterno did the bare minimum, legally, and will be spared any prosecution. In the court of public opinion it is a different story.

Jerry Sandusky, the one-time Penn State assistant at the center of this horrid affair or series of affairs, turned up a few years later as a volunteer assistant football coach at Central Mountain High School near Lock Haven, Pa. He also was still heading up his nonprofit organization, The Second Mile, to help at-risk children and dealt with some local kids in that role.

Coincidentally, my youngest daughter, Beth, has been the girls' head volleyball coach at the same high school since 2005. I distinctly remember the day she called and said, "Dad, do you know Jerry Sandusky? You're not going to believe this ..."

In 2008, a Central Mountain student and his mother alleged Sandusky had some 20 sexual encounters with the boy over a multiyear period. School administrators informed children's services and local police and it went from there to the state police and Pennsylvania attorney general's office and, a couple days ago, we learned the scope of this long-term investigation and the resulting charges.

As sad as it is, the saddest thing of all is that six years earlier Penn State University had the opportunity -- and failed -- to do what Central Mountain High School did.

There had already been another allegation of an on-campus incident that Sandusky admitted to in 1998 while still on Paterno's coaching staff. The university dealt with Sandusky on both occasions in its own insufficient way, but apparently never even tried to learn the identity of the victim in '02. Nor did PSU report it to law enforcement.

How many other children were endangered or horribly violated because of the school's cowardice, the school's decision to sweep the ugliness under the carpet to protect its reputation and the presumed high moral ground which had long served as the foundation for its football program?

It's usually hard to spit on high moral ground. It's uphill and the wind is always in your face. Not today.

The president of the university, who declared his "unconditional" support for administrators who were indicted, should lose his job. Those administrators are as good as gone.

So too should Paterno and McQueary be gone, as well as anybody else on the Penn State campus who ran from this instead of fighting it.

This isn't about football, legends and legacies.

This is about kids being terribly wronged and adults being terribly wrong.

I believe Joe Paterno is a good man and that he surely now regrets not fulfilling a moral obligation to do more than send it up the chain. It may seem unfair that one weak decision/moment could erase a lifetime of good works on and off the field. But in many ways, Paterno is the top of the chain at Penn State. This is unforgivable.

If the football program, the legend, and his legacy go down, so be it.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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