Joe Paterno: End of an Era Through a Failure to Act

One phone call.

That’s all it took to end Joe Paterno‘s 45 year run as the head coach of the Penn State University football team.  In an ironic twist, it’s also the very thing that could have saved Joe Paterno’s job and ultimately his legacy as the most revered and winningest football coach in the history of college football.

One phone call.

The downfall of Joe Paterno is sad.  Not so much for the man himself, but rather the circumstances in which his exit from Penn State University had to occur.  This wasn’t a Jim Tressel-like situation where a few misguided NCAA violations occurred for the sake of winning at all costs.  This was a situation involving a horrific crime involving children and a loss of innocence across the board.

First and foremost, it was a loss of innocence for all of the children abused at the hands of a monster.  They never deserved to be put in those situations.  To think that someone could do something so terrible to children is unconscionable.  Jerry Sandusky, if all accounts are true… which seems all but impossible that they aren’t… is an absolute monster and eventually will get what’s coming to him in a court of law.

Secondly, this was a loss of innocence for all of us.  For so long Penn State has been placed on a pedestal for all that is right in college football.  They were the cleanest of the clean.  Now we come to find out just how wrong we all were.  Paterno and the Penn State athletic department may never have broken a single NCAA rule, but they did harbor a child predator and essentially provided him with the means to continue his run of terror.  We were all bamboozled.  When news broke of the Ohio State and Miami scandals earlier this year we all wondered aloud, “what’s going on everywhere else?”  Well, we’ve found out… and now we wish we didn’t know.

The failure across the board at Penn State is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before in the realm of college athletics.  How something like this could go on for so long without anyone raising an issue is beyond comprehension.  From Mike McQueary to Joe Paterno to Tim Curley and Gary Schulz there has been no accountability for what went on.  Nobody at any level wants to look the collective “us” in the eye and admit they made a mistake.  However, that doesn’t make them the monsters in this terrible story.  That position is reserved solely for Sandusky.

Was Paterno wrong for not reporting what he was told to the proper authorities?  Should he have followed up with school administrators after he informed them of allegations?  Could he have done more?  The answer to all of those questions is a resounding, “yes.”  Paterno’s failure was a failure to take action above all else and he has no one to blame but himself.  Whatever the motivation for this failure might have been is not for us to say, but it points to a grander issue that needs to be addressed in all of this, because this is about more than football.  This is about life and doing the right thing at the end of the day.

Children are abused every day in this country and more often than not the crimes go unreported and unacknowledged.  The failure to act by adults happens for a magnitude of reasons ranging anywhere from disbelief and a “this person couldn’t have dont that” mentality to simply not wanting to get involved.  Abuse goes ignored more than we want to admit and Penn State only serves as another, more prominent example of this.  If you know something or see something you have a responsibility to report it, to speak for and defend those who can’t do it for themselves.

This entire story is sick and disturbing on so many levels that it’s hard to comprehend what exactly happened.  The university has been tarnished and legacies have been ruined all across the board.  That’s why Penn State trustees did what they had to do last night and that’s why Joe Paterno is no longer the head coach of the Penn State football team.  That’s why Penn State University President Graham Spanier was relieved of his duties.  That’s why so many others associated with the university will probably be released in the weeks and months to come.  It’s about moving forward and how can you move forward by holding on to the past?

There’s no denying that the end of the Joe Paterno era has been unfathomably sad.  Instead of going out on top and on his own terms to a parade of well wishes and congratulations, Paterno was forced out in the dark of night.  Instead of a press conference full of accolades in front of alumni, players, and reporters, Paterno was fired all alone in the quiet of his own living room.

All it took was one phone call to change the future of Penn State University as we know it.

All it would have taken was one phone call to keep any of this from ever happening.

One phone call…

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4 thoughts on “Joe Paterno: End of an Era Through a Failure to Act

  1. it’s such a nauseating story. and not ending in the immediate future. we’re going to be hearing about this forever- and always thinking about it when we hear “penn state.”

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