Sometimes life comes down to a few key moments. A path taken--or not taken. Sadly for Joe Paterno, a life richly filled with good choices will forever be stained with one, inconceivable decision. For the Trustees of Penn State University, the decision to fire Paterno and school president Graham Spanier was the first step in making the right decision for the school and the victims of this tragedy.
As the wife of a Notre Dame alum and huge football fan, I've always been in awe of school athletic programs like Notre Dame and Penn State that manage to focus on not just athletics, but academics and character development. It's a select group of admirable universities. In the case of Penn State and Joe Paterno, that storied history must sadly be rewritten. Reading the coverage of all that's happened in the child molestation scandal that is unfolding, it is impossible not to be furious and demand, "How could this happen?" These men have an obligation -- a duty -- to protect their students and all children. Where was the one voice of reason to say, "Whatever it costs us on the field, we must take drastic action?" Where was a single man or woman in authority (incidentally, there's been scant mention of women in the school's chain of command) who was willing to put the safety of children ahead of the false gridiron piety and morality for the TV audience watching on Saturdays.
Sadly, Joe Paterno is right -- he should have done more. He most certainly did not do enough. I'm a believer that you must always try and make things right, accept responsibility, and change. Last night, the University Trustees recognized what Paterno and his supporters could not: his actions and those of others around him meant his career had to end immediately. Allowing him to step on the field for one more Saturday would have been a further outrage to the families of the victims who will be dealing with the ramifications of the case long after Penn State's football team has moved on.
As we find ourselves surrounded by the photos of Jerry Sandusky in hand cuffs, JoePa with microphones in his face, and stunned townies and students gathering outside Coach Paterno's home - all we can do now is pray that this ugly storm will hasten the time when no one will ever again remain silent from a horror observed. This story, like so many others, reminds us all we have a responsibility to check our moral compass daily in big and small ways. In the end, no win, trophy or touchdown can possibly replace the loss of what's most fundamental about our own time on life's playing field.
Follow Marlo Thomas on Twitter: