Friday, September 23, 2016


by Charles Snow

I have been closely following the Sandusky scandal at Penn State since it erupted in the fall of 2011. The latest chapter in this sad, ongoing saga occurred last Saturday when Penn State commemorated the 50th anniversary of Joe Paterno’s first game (and victory) as the head football coach. The planned celebration was preceded by an editorial in the school newspaper questioning the wisdom of such an event, followed by a torrent of angry e-mails from Penn State alumni and Joe Paterno fans.
The Sandusky affair has been poorly handled by the Penn State administration from the beginning, including the firing of Paterno in a classic rush to judgment. Those who have been following this story can see no pattern in the decision-making by Penn State’s Board of Trustees, as well as by Presidents Erickson and Barron, unless that pattern is incompetence. I, myself, am convinced that the university administration is tone deaf when it comes to dealing with Sandusky’s crimes and the career of Joe Paterno.
To be fair, there is nothing that Penn State can do – or not do – that will please everyone. The hole that was initially dug in this affair is simply too deep. So I would like to simply offer my opinion on the Paterno commemoration given the context that has developed over the past five years.
It’s a fact that Joe Paterno was a great football coach. He is the winningest coach in college football, and all of his teams’ victories came as the coach at Penn State. Certainly, this individual’s record should be commemorated. Moreover, Paterno contributed to the university in other ways – as a fundraiser for the library and as the face of a model football program of student-athletes. Perhaps Paterno should be commemorated for these leadership characteristics as well.
But is Joe Paterno a moral role model as well? I don’t think so. I lost a lot of respect for Paterno the individual when I learned of how he handled the report by Mike McQuery in what is usually referred to as the “shower incident.” It didn’t then, and it doesn’t now, sound to me like Paterno had that young boy’s interests at heart. His bureaucratic passing of the information to the athletic director the next day bordered on being heartless. Now we’re hearing from depositions in one of the endless lawsuits that Paterno may have known more about Sandusky’s behavior than he ever acknowledged.
Should Penn State commemorate Joe Paterno before the full story of his role in the Sandusky affair is known? I realize that we may never know the full story even when the remaining lawsuits and trials are over. Therefore, I would wait – years if necessary – to honor Joe Paterno, and I would limit that commemoration to his role as football coach and the creator of a model college football program. The event that was held last Saturday is repugnant – especially in the eyes of Sandusky’s victims and those who are trying to increase awareness of the sexual abuse of children.

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