Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Joe Paterno apologists, I used to be one
of you. Not only did I revere the football coach from a distance, I idolized
the makings of his "Grand Experiment," his morality over money moniker that
made him appear so authentic and so grandfatherly.
I shook his hand. I talked to him a good bit about a book I was writing -- a
historical tale that intertwined Penn State's and the football program's
legacies. In so many ways, it was a story of his travels from Brooklyn born
and Ivy League bred to Penn State forever. He signed two footballs as part of
a silent auction I was holding as a memorial for my late uncle, including a
handwritten note scribbled on football letterhead that read, "Hope this helps.
I speak of this tangible relationship not to puff out my chest at the smallest
morsel of access into his life, but to lay the foundation for the boom that's
about to drop. You see Joe-pologists, I was one of you, reverting back to
memories from my childhood, Saturday afternoons in the fall, fleeting
recollections of his raspy voice and Coke-bottle glasses every time I was
faced with another shred of evidence.
This isn't Joe. He's a humanitarian. He was from a different time,
uncomfortable in the thoughts of the "Tickle Monster" and a young boy's bottom
making, to use a grand jury phrase, "slapping sounds in the shower." He backed
away. He was let down by those he trusted.
And then I woke up. And I suggest you do the same.
I'm all for the benefit of the doubt -- but he left town with the Freeh
Report's damning findings that provided some new adjectives and context to
Liar. Manipulator. Leader of men alright, three others to be exact, who didn't
give a single thought to the futures of disadvantaged boys because they were
too worried about themselves, the football team and Penn State's image.
I'm all for forgiveness and the understanding that everyone makes mistakes.
I've made mine as I'm sure you've made yours. But Joe Paterno didn't make one
mistake. Or two, or ten.
He made a mistake every day for the 11 years that he indirectly allowed a
serial pedophile to prance around campus and stalk his prey before using the
showers in Joe's kingdom to reign terror on children who couldn't fight back,
wrestling with them, blowing on their stomachs, and for those who didn't
relent, destroying their lives for countless years to come.
Forgiveness comes to those who repent, but Paterno, to his last dying breath,
told a Grand Jury, a handpicked interviewer named Sally Jenkins and anyone who
would listen that he had no knowledge of a 1998 investigation into the sexual
perversions of Jerry Sandusky.
Paterno spent his last days telling Jenkins that he told his "boss," athletic
director Tim Curley, about then graduate assistant Mike McQueary's soul-
crippling discovery of Sandusky conveniently placed behind a young boy's
backside then backed away, because in his words, "I didn't know exactly how to
He did know what to do. Any sane, responsible human being would know what to
do. Call child welfare and get that sick pervert off the streets. Instead,
Paterno just passed the buck, a discovery that prompted his new favorite PR
line: "With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."
No kidding. But it doesn't stop there.
His family's attorney team, led by Wick Sollers, has been a fast-cranking PR
machine for weeks, throwing out powerful words two days before the Freeh
Report's release about "email leaks" and "fairness." Then, just in case those
didn't land, a letter supposedly written by Paterno to his former players in
the month before his death magically found legs, hopped a bus and landed at
the feet of multiple media outlets.
"This wasn't a football scandal," it bellowed. In the simplest terms, that
declaration was accurate. None of the former letter-winners were, to our best
estimation, privy to this massacre or assisted in its deception. But honestly,
this scandal had everything to do with the university's football culture, one
in which I have been an active participant since I was old enough to walk.
Parts of the letter made perfect sense -- Penn State has always been a world-
class institution, and always will be. LaVar Arrington and Chuck Fusina's
accomplishments shouldn't be minimalized by this horrible tragedy.
Yet, time and time again, statements of defiance and self-preservation tore at
those statements of healing. The letter wasn't about moving forward at all,
instead one final plea to never forget the past.
And in the author's case, the past meant him and his legacy. It was and has
always been about him and his legacy at its core.
Emails painted a picture that few wanted to admit, but make perfect sense if
you have even the slightest knowledge of how Penn State operated, or honestly,
a little common sense. Paterno knew about the 1998 investigation, just as many
assumed in their heart of hearts he did. He actively followed it and was
briefed by Curley on its status throughout. Sandusky wasn't charged with a
crime, but in the context of McQueary's account in 2001, Paterno and Penn
State's powers that be should have used the investigation as a warning sign
that perhaps this was much more than a creepy old man with boundary issues.
And even if they weren't sure, the safest, surest bet for the continued
welfare of children was to report the incident to authorities and let them do
their jobs. Instead, Penn State gave Sandusky the benefit of the doubt
because, in Spanier's own typewritten funeral sentence, it was the "humane"
thing to do.
That humane intention allowed countless more boys to fall victim to Sandusky's
manipulation and physical abuse. That isn't to say that Spanier, Paterno, et
al. actively protected a pedophile, but when does "willful ignorance" cross
past the point of ignorance and into willful, whether it be to the criminal's
benefit first and foremost or not.
Joe Paterno, Graham Spanier, Gary Schultz and Tim Curley didn't care about
Jerry Sandusky. They weren't trying to protect him. They didn't fell sorry for
him. They were willfully protecting themselves from a chink in the moral,
ethical fortress of perception they had built. And in the end, is there really
that big of a difference between self-preservation and protection of a
pedophile when children's welfare is at stake?
I will always contend that once they let Sandusky slide in 2001, he had them
by the Lion's tail. It snowballed through the years to the point where it
could never be reported. The stakes got higher and more costly with each day
child welfare wasn't contacted, and soon it became silence at all costs.
One of the biggest scandals in the history of a major university didn't start
as a cover-up, otherwise Paterno wouldn't have told a soul. The university's
culture of reverence to the "Joe Knows" style of thinking never intended to
cloak a master manipulator and child predator.
It just happened that way because four seemingly well-educated, moralistic men
convinced themselves it wasn't as bad as they feared, the portrait wasn't as
heinous as a worst case scenario painted, and that they could micro-manage the
situation themselves and all would be right in Joe's kingdom.
It didn't turn out that way. And now they all must pay. And by "all" I mean
the three men still living and the legacy of the man who was responsible for
the growth of a Central Pennsylvania cow college into a world-class
Joe Paterno did many great things in his life. And to my grave, I will contend
his "Grand Experiment" was genuine, his desire to hold academics and athletics
in tandem was sincere. Somewhere, the mystic, the stature created a power so
big, so vast and so dangerous that it crumbled the very moral foundation that
No one should care about a statue. Facebook groups that yearn for the "Statue
to Stay" just highlight the university's out-of-touch, Joe-is-God philosophy
that helped indirectly form a bubble of secrecy around the University Park
No one should care about ice cream flavors or library wings. If they stay,
they will be a consistent reminder of the man and this scandal. If they
vanish, they will be a consistent reminder of the man and a fallen legacy.
Either way, Joe Paterno's "Grand Experiment" worked like a charm until it was
tested. And then it failed, leaving a battered and defeated university in its
Penn State will move on. It is an innovative, research-leading university with
lofty goals and dreams. It will recover, in time, and people will have their
own memories of Paterno and his place in their minds.
There is nothing wrong with that. I will remember the good, but always
understand that it can't overshadow the bad.
Meet me there. Help Penn State move on, not necessarily by wiping the past
from your mind, but by accepting its evils, learning from its mistakes and
creating a bigger, better university.
One that doesn't put football over children. And one that moves past the
ideals of Joe Paterno.
The Sports Network