If parting with Paterno, do it now
If Penn State’s Board of Trustees has, as reported, decided that Joe Paterno’s career as Penn State’s coach will end in this, his 46th season, then the move needs to be made immediately, prior to Saturday’s game against Nebraska. It then needs to be followed by the firing of school president Graham Spanier.
The New York Times reported the icon’s tenure will be over “perhaps within days or weeks,” the casualty of a widening sex abuse scandal that has imploded the once tranquil world of Penn State football.
There’s no reason to wait. The debate over Paterno’s moral culpability in not informing police in 2002 after a then-graduate assistant told Paterno of “something inappropriate involving (former defensive coordinator Jerry) Sandusky” during an “incident in the shower of our locker room facility” will wage forever.
Paterno did what he was legally obligated to do – he informed his boss, athletic director Tim Curley, about the allegation the following day.
He did nothing else though, and a lack of action that has been criticized by many, including the Pennsylvania law enforcement entity that eventually charged Sandusky with dozens of counts of abuse of a minor and Curley and a school vice president for perjury and failure to report the abuse.
The result has been a hurricane of a scandal, rocking not just the football program but also Penn State as an institution to its foundation.
Just Tuesday, a ninth potential victim of Sandusky emerged, according to the Harrisburg Patriot-News. The state’s attorney general has asked for other victims to come forward. Sandusky was allowed to roam free for nine-and-a-half years after the 2002 allegations were brought to Penn State’s attention, a time when other victims were molested. In 1998 the Penn State police department investigated other molestation accusations against Sandusky, but he was not prosecuted.
The depth and fury of the questions still remaining unanswered not just by Paterno, but also by other school officials, including President Spanier, are considerable.
[Wetzel podcast: Legal issues may not be over at Penn State]
Why wasn’t more done? Why didn’t anyone at the university try to find the boy who was being abused to ensure both his immediate protection and long-term counseling? How was Sandusky allowed to maintain a presence around the program, including an office in the football building and access to the team weight room into last week? And what of his reported appearance at a practice a few years ago with another child?
Paterno was scheduled to twice address the media Tuesday. The school first told reporters that it would allow football questions only before canceling both appearances abruptly. Within minutes, the Times reported Paterno would be done, soon.
It needs to be done prior to Saturday’s home game against the Cornhuskers. If Penn State feels Paterno is too much of a liability or distraction to finish the season, then he is too much of a liability or distraction to coach even a single game.
He can’t avoid the media postgame. The school can’t hide him out forever. There is little question that at 84 years old and in frail physical condition, Paterno is in poor shape to be trotted out into this firestorm. While I maintained that it would be appropriate to hear Paterno’s explanation before calling for his firing, it stands to reason school administrators have spoken to him about the situation.
There are also significant civil liability concerns to allowing Paterno to speak. The school cited “the on-going legal circumstances centered around the recent allegations and charges.”
The situation appears to be untenable. It’s no longer about what is best for Paterno, but what is best for the university, its students, faculty and alumni as a whole. The circus needs to end. The corner needs to be turned. The process has to begin.
If the Board of Trustees has determined that forcing Paterno’s resignation is that start, then the next step has to be completing the cleaning process and firing Spanier.
The president has displayed a profound lack of accountability, remorse and leadership during this process. If Paterno couldn’t speak due to his age and health, then Spanier, who rarely turned down a live television camera during his career, should’ve stepped in and fielded questions.
If Paterno is being found liable for not going beyond his legal obligation and also calling the police, then Spanier has to be removed for doing the same thing and signing off on the plan by Curley to simply ban Sandusky from bringing children onto Penn State’s campus.
When asked Monday if Spanier could be a target in the on-going investigation, attorney general Linda Kelly declined comment. Kelly unequivocally cleared Paterno.
Now is the time for a full sweep. A Paterno-led team on Saturday would be chaotic – fans unsure whether to cheer or boo, whether to show up or stay home in protest, the entire event overwhelmed.
Canceling the remaining games of the season wouldn’t be out of the question, although punishing the current players who have done nothing wrong would be unfortunate. Allowing longtime assistant Tom Bradley to finish out the season is a compromise. The program’s long-term future can be debated in cooler times.
This entire scandal has been a testament to failed leadership, to people not making decisive, if unpopular, decisions. Forcing Paterno to step down will not be universally accepted, there will be considerable backlash from his many fans. At least someone is stepping up and making a determination for what they believe is the long-term good of Penn State.
If Joe has got to go, then do it immediately. And then immediately send Graham Spanier packing too.