Every fall, we have looked forward to watching Joe Paterno grace the college football stage. The fired Paterno was the coach with the most: most wins, most longevity, most beloved. And to most of us who watch college football, he was "Joe Pa" on a pedestal. What irony is in a name, the paternal name given to him assumes the ultimate level of care for his program and players. No one could fathom the firing of Joe Pa after 61 years of coaching at Penn State.
The allegations of the sex crimes of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, combined with the negligence of university officials, have tarnished Paterno's reputation. His record on the field and grooming of athletes is not in question; This is a case of negligence on the part of the Penn State football program, administration, and the college president. It just doesn't get any more serious under your watch.
Sandusky has been charged with 40 counts of sex crimes with eight victims dating back 15 years.
Many say Paterno didn't do anything wrong, but the issue is, he didn't do the right thing.
Of course, there are no criminal charges filed against Paterno, no allegations that he was in any way involved in abusive behavior. He has been a shining and caring example for his athletes but lest we not forget, Paterno knew about eyewitness reports of sexual abuse of minors since at least 2002. These allegations include on-campus sexual abuse of minors.
Initially, he did the right thing, reported the allegations to the athletic director in 2002, but what came next? Sandusky allegedly continued the sexual abuse of star-struck minor boys until at least 2007. This could have been stopped in 2002 and the future sexual abuse of boys could have been stopped. No reports were made to the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare nor law enforcement, which is required by law.
Paterno washed his hands and moved on. Sandusky still maintained an office on the athletic campus as a retired member of the Penn State program. But where was the concern that a member of the University in assumedly good standing may strike at youngsters, student athletes, fans, summer sports campers, and not to mention the reputation of his athletic program?
We can all learn an important lessons from Paterno. Of course you always need to get the proverbial monkey off your back when you become aware of alleged malfeasance under your watch, and in this case it was an alleged felony of monumental proportions. But it doesn't end there. When you become aware of a suspected crime in your workplace, you must follow it to fruition. Don't forget, tacitly excused behavior IS excused behavior. Sandusky was sitting boldly, comfortable in the Penn State Athletic Department.
Don't think your hands are clean if you have only passed on the word to administrators who assumedly will take care of the problem. You need to follow through the allegations or you may become implicated in the workplace negligence. Athletic Director Tim Curley and Senior Vice President Gary Schultz have stepped down from their positions and have now been charged with failing to report the incident to police and lying to a grand jury. President Graham Spanier was fired on November 9.
This negligence of administration ranks up there with a negligent hiring decision. There is no difference between hiring a coach with a history of crimes against children and letting him remain employed once you have become aware of credible allegations. In either circumstance, you know the danger and are willing to take the chances of a repeat offense. You must be prepared to take the ramifications and in this case, it came home to roost.
Jo Pa said to a group of 300 students this week, "The kids who were victims... we need to say a prayer for them. It's a tough life when people do certain things to you.. I wish I could have done more." Indeed, it is a tough life for the victims and makes us wonder about those prayers and hopes of Penn State administration that this tragedy would just go away. These young men who have come forward need justice. Coach Sandusky took away the innocence of the young men he allegedly violated . He also took down the reputations and careers of colleagues who blindly trusted him.
You may say, let the legal system take its course. But, the reality of the seriousness of this case has set in and the University needed to make employment decisions based on the credible evidence. This is what employment decisions are made of.
Paterno said "We're always going to be Penn State." But the closeted reputation of Penn State Athletics, fully known by four layers of administration, was paramount to doing the right thing. Protecting youngsters from a sexual predator was in the secondary.
Paterno will be remembered by this tragic turn of events as a final defining moment of his career and his illustrious coaching career will be tarnished with these accusations. What a sad way to end the stunning career of a beloved coach.