Dereliction of Duty

The football god that failed

The death of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno at age 85 brings down the curtain on one of the most storied careers in college football.   Conversely, it also punctuates one of the most unexpected and saddest falls from grace any man of his stature has ever suffered.

The Paterno apologists wasted no time attempting to recast him as a martyr who was sacrificed by Penn State officials who fired him in the wake of Paterno failing to take decisive action against former assistant Jerry Sandusky who was indicted for multiple counts of child molestation.

Paterno himself avoided prosecution, but in the court of public opinion he was found guilty of dereliction of duty.   Sandusky was the one who committed criminal acts of extreme depravity.  Paterno’s role in this tragedy is somewhat more murky.

He most certainly does deserve his share of the blame.

Paterno is a legend, but he tainted his legacy by his appalling moral failing to act to intervene and stop children from suffering. Joe Pa deserves credit for the thousands of young men he helped as a great football coach and he deserves the condemnation he is receiving for his cowardly avoidance to take swift and decisive action.

“I didn’t know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was. So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn’t work out that way.”

Didn’t know exactly how to handle it? Here’s a suggestion. Pick up a phone and call a cop. You are Joe Paterno. You are Penn State. If you say, “Hey, I think Jerry Sandusky is raping kids. Come arrest his ass” Jerry Sandusky’s ass will be arrested and he won’t be raping kids in the locker room shower.

Paterno’s buck-passing excuse strains credulity.  When a child’s safety is at stake the right thing to do is to take charge of the situation, not farm it out to someone else in a sorry stab at covering your own ass.   It would have been better to accuse Sandusky and be wrong than to shuffle it off to bureaucrats without Paterno’s stature to clean up the mess.

If not for the Sandusky scandal we could simply state our sympathy for his family, acknowledge his greatness as a football coach, wonder if he hung around a little too long and let it go at that.

I can’t do that. I won’t do that because to do so is to absolve Paterno from the responsibility any adult has to take action when they suspect a child is being molested. Whether you’re a living legend or the next door neighbor, you have to step up to the plate to protect the innocent. Paterno’s failure to do so was a reprehensible and contemptible act.

The old ball coach faced a moment that required him to call upon his courage.  He punted

Paterno is out of his pain and misery. For the victims of Jerry Sandusky, their pain and misery continues.