John Feinstein said it best when he observed that “Joe Paterno isn’t a victim in the Penn State scandal; sadly, he is a part of it.”
While everyone is talking about it, it’s unlikely many people have actually read the entire 23-page indictment. And be thankful you haven’t. Not only will the stories keep you up at night thinking about the 7- and 8 year-old victims who re-live this nightmare every day, but you will be ashamed to say you ever rooted for Penn State head coach Joe Paterno, or for a minute thought he might be innocent. Ashamed as I am to say it, I considered Paterno may have been a scapegoat or a way for Penn State to try and save face in the PR nightmare. However, now I am just as certain as Feinstein that he was very much a part of the problem.
“Sandusky is the person who set all of this in motion, of that there is no doubt. If he is guilty, there is almost no penalty he can pay that fits his crimes. But there is also little doubting that for years he was enabled by a number of people at Penn State — Paterno clearly being the most important of them, even though he may not be legally liable, ” says Feinstein. I believe too, that he is just as much to blame as Sandusky because he knew what was going on and, like many Penn State officials, apparently did nothing. This makes him just as culpable as Sandusky, in a way. What human being can know these things happen, repeatedly hear about them and do nothing?
As an iconic fixture at Penn State and in the college football world, his termination shook the entire school, state and nation. People are infuriated, whether it be over the heinous crimes or his firing. No matter what the reason, one thing is certain — Penn State needs a Hail Mary to come back from this scandal. Even the way they handled the situation, holding a press conference late at night, firing the school president and Paterno and holding a prayer ceremony before the Nebraska-Penn State game, it almost seems that every move has been as poorly calculated as Paterno’s decision to keep what he knew from the police. This was as much a human error as it was a PR blunder. Neither Paterno nor Penn State, in my opinion, will recover easily.
The right step was definitely made in firing Paterno and anyone else involved and I commend the school on this. Would I ever send my own child there? After reading the indictment, likely not. Many officials were aware of the scandal and blood-curdling abuse, but ultimately did nothing. This is a place that is supposed to pride itself on keeping students safe and for years turned their heads in order to save face. Ironic how now they have completely lost it. What can the university do now to get themselves back on track? What crisis plan can even attempt to tame the fire?
According to the Bleacher Report, a grand jury began investigating the alleged crimes that first came to light in 2002. Yes, indications are that the university has known about Sandusky and his alleged crimes for almost 10 years. And hiding it was clearly their crisis management plan. It is only fair to ask why several staff members and school officials, including Paterno, were not fired before last week? It makes me think that the firing only happened because the public found out and officials felt they had to do something so they were not associated with Sandusky.
Were winning games and keeping their good name and Paterno’s intact more important than their duty to do the right thing? The Bleacher Report offers some good advice for the school’s PR students, “If Penn State is teaching the same public relations strategy that they’ve employed over the past 10 days, then every student who is currently studying PR at the university should immediately change their major.”
Though they continue to apologize, Penn State has eons to go before they will be able to move past this scandal. Paterno, on the other hand, will never recover. What he did, or failed to do, was much worse than ruining his coaching legacy by breaking a rule. He let his responsibility to the game, his players and staff come before his responsibility as a human being. His clouded judgment will forever follow him and unfortunately, the university he represented for five decades.
Paterno is a permanent fixture at Penn State and is so strongly associated with the school that I am curious to see how they will disassociate themselves or even attempt to do so. The name Paterno will undoubtedly strike a nerve for most who hear it, whether with Penn State alumni or just angry civilians who hate what he now represents — one of the most horrific scandals in college football and human behavior.
What do you think? Will Joe Paterno or Penn State recover their storied status? What next steps should Penn State take to restore its reputation?