When you address the sudden, shocking downfall of Joe Paterno, there is a small story and large story to consider.
The smaller story is his own coaching career – 61 years at Penn State, 46 of them as head coach, the wins, the national championships, the young men he molded, the generosity and loyalty to State College.
Paterno stayed way too long, fearful that, if he ever retired, he would die quickly, as Bear Bryant did. By hanging on, he allowed a culture of enabling to grow, both in the Penn State football program and its administration.
It would have sickening consequences. And those consequences are, of course, the larger story we have totally forgotten, much to our own collective shame.
Jerry Sandusky, Paterno’s long-time assistant coach and thought at one time to be his heir apparent, is charged with multiple counts of sexual assault against boys he had met through the Second Mile charity he founded in 1977.
To go through those charges in detail is too vile for this publication. The best thing for anyone that wants a full, brutal picture of what Sandusky allegedly did can go find the 23-page Grand Jury report from the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office that indicted him, along with two Penn State administrators who were charged with perjury.
Not that you’ve heard about Sandusky in these recent days, though. The desire to crush Paterno, who preached so much about values and priorities, has engulfed this story, to the point of totally obscuring the whole reason we were here in the first place.
Understand, Penn State’s Board of Trustees had no alternative but to dismiss Paterno, along with school president Graham Spanier. They were part of a systemic failure, at Penn State and elsewhere, involving adults not reporting vile criminal behavior to proper authorities, allowing the pattern to continue, and for boys to be scarred for life.