What’s happening in Happy Valley is astonishing. I’m not surprised that a sexual predator could thrive in such an environment. I’m amazed that Joe Paterno, who holds the title of coach but is really the emperor of State College, PA, didn’t see how much damage Jerry Sandusky had done.
We are now nine years on from when Joe Paterno apparently spoke with his athletic director concerning Sandusky’s behavior. Based on what we know now, Paterno never followed up. It has also been reported that Sandusky was still hanging around at Penn State as recently as last week.
Think about the timing. We are talking about 2002. Do you remember what happened in 2002? Among other things, we started to learn the extent of the scandal surrounding the Catholic Church’s failings in protecting young people from the sexual predators who were in its midst. Nine years on, the Church is still fumbling through its efforts to make things right. You would have thought that Joe Paterno would have connected the dots and would have taken more decisive action in getting Sandusky away from his beloved university. He didn’t and the damage continued. And now the truth will out, as it always does.
We spend a lot of time bemoaning the scandals in collegiate sports, most of which involve greed and the kaleidoscopic standards of the NCAA. What happened at Penn State is worse than anything that happened at Ohio State, Southern Cal or even SMU. There’s no gain saying the good work that Joe Paterno has done in his life. He’s always been more than a coach at Penn State — he’s raised millions of dollars for the university and a wide variety of charities. He has been the craggy, lovable face of Happy Valley. He’s always been a man of action, a somewhat rumpled icon in black cleats. Yet at the critical moment in his career, he let an injustice continue. He’ll never be able to erase the stain.