At the risk of losing my credibility, I have to retract my previous commentary, “Say It Ain’t So, Joe,” in which I urged readers to be generous in assessing the moral culpability of Penn State Coach Joe Paterno in relation to an undeniably horrendous situation involving the sexual abuse of children by former coach Jerry Sandusky.
This change of position does not come easily or without a sense of embarrassment, but after reading the Grand Jury’s 23-page Findings of Fact and having a passionate discussion with my wife, I’ve concluded that I allowed my admiration of Coach Paterno’s philosophy and character to blur my vision.
I hate throwing Coach Pa’s legacy on the bonfire of public outrage, but I am now convinced that Penn State’s Board of Trustees did the right thing in firing Coach Paterno and President Spanier.
The Board undoubtedly considered the additional damage to the university’s reputation that would have resulted from a new firestorm of criticism had Coach Paterno been permitted to take the field representing Penn State on the national stage of this Saturday’s game, but I can’t justify diminishing the legacy of a great coach and a fundamentally good man for public relations reasons alone.
The more important consideration for me is the need to send a powerful, unequivocal message that everyone who has an opportunity to protect children has an obligation to muster the fortitude and moral courage to do so. Looking the other way, taking half measures, or attempting to defer the responsibility to others is simply not acceptable.
We know that a molester doesn’t just molest one child. We know the enormous lasting damage caused by such despicable behavior. We also know that responsible people must make every effort to prevent the the infliction of this harm, to vindicate the victims, and to bring criminals to justice. In hindsight, there can be no doubt that Coach Paterno and many of his colleagues failed to do that.
I’m truly sorry Joe, but you have to go.