Last Wednesday, a legacy ended. Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, the winningest coach in college football history, was fired because of a failure to report sex crimes of former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky to authorities. In response, Penn State students took to the streets, clamoring for Paterno’s reinstatement. Sports reporters cried out about the unfairness of the firing. And the campus, though divided, rallied behind Paterno.
That doesn’t mean the decision to fire Paterno wasn’t the right one. The scandal centers around Sandusky, who between 1994 and 2009 molested and anally raped eight boys between 7 and 13 years old. Each story of sexual abuse is more sickening than the last; Sandusky used his charity Second Mile — a foster home — to build a relationship with young boys, and rape them in the shower later.
In 2002, Sandusky was caught raping a young boy in the shower. Paterno was informed of the incident and passed along the information to the university administrators. Finally, Sandusky would be stopped. Finally, no more boys would be molested, their lives forever altered because of the sexual perversions of one man. And finally, the molestations did end; after, of course, seven more years and who knows how many more molestation cases.
Legally, Paterno fulfilled his obligation. His moral responsibility, however, is a different story altogether. He had an opportunity to go to the police, to end Sandusky’s path of destruction once and for all. Instead, he allowed it to continue. Of course, it was the school who failed most in this scandal: Penn State did nothing but confiscate Sandusky’s locker room keys, a punishment so underwhelming it’s laughable. And so, the molestations continued.
The truth is, it makes no difference if Paterno was the winningest coach in college football history. Paterno acted with absolute negligence. For the sake of the game — which is only a game, mind you — he protected this pervert. Paterno simply got what he had coming to him.
Penn State fans and Paterno defenders, know this: Defending Paterno only serves to create a double standard. Moral responsibility, not personal achievement, should be the most important factor in these kinds of cases. Simply being good — or even, in Paterno’s case, the best — at something is not a viable reason as to why one should retain one’s position. And no amount of protesting, rioting and car-flipping will change that fact,
Paterno’s neglect irreversibly damaged lives; that’s a fact. Allowing Paterno to remain in his position only moves the line back further as to what’s acceptable. And that line, much like the line of scrimmage for Paterno’s coaching career, should never again be crossed.