Penn State Scandal: Paterno’s Responsibility And Moving Forward

Penn State Seal

This post was totally unforeseen by most people because it covers the recent Penn State scandal. We simply never thought we’d be writing about Joe Paterno and the Nittany Lions in such a negative way… but maybe that’s a big part of the problem. Have truly big-time college athletics become TOO IMPORTANT and TOO TRUSTED in our society?

Penn State Seal

The news surrounding allegations of child sexual abuse at the hands of a former assistant coach for the PSU football program is spreading like wildfire in the sports world. Former Coach Jerry Sandusky has been accused by 8 or 9 people now, and the situation for all involved is very serious, as is usually the case with allegations like this. He faces 40 total criminal counts of child sexual abuse.

Sexual abuse is a huge deal, and at least in my eyes, it is one of the worst crimes you can possibly perpetrate as a human being. And it certainly isn’t limited to the Penn State college football team – it happens in a lot of different places. So the child abuse portion of this case is not better or worse because this situation happened at PSU, it’s just really bad and really sad, like every other child sexual abuse case.

But what IS worse are all the rumors that are flying around that Coach Paterno and others at Penn State actually had some idea about what was going on, and that it was swept under the rug. So far events in 1998 and 2002 have been tagged as points where people within the program and beyond supposedly knew about what was going on. If that is true, then this story just took a leap to a whole new level, and Paterno bears even more responsibility than originally thought.

Matt Millen was on ESPN yesterday talking about the situation, and what I found most interesting is that Millen claimed Paterno was the most powerful person at PSU, aside from the School President. It took Millen a while to even think of the President as more powerful. Paterno’s name is even on the school library. The football coach’s name is on the library. Think about that.

I understand that PSU wasn’t a well-known school before Paterno took their football team to National notoriety, and I know that the man has done a ton for the school. No one is debating that. But at the end of the day, Paterno was STILL just a football coach, and he had absolutely no business possessing so much power that he could allow something like this disappear… and from the looks of things, that may have happened at least TWICE.

The issue here is that Paterno didn’t really have to answer to anyone at the school. Presidents and administrators have come and gone, but Joe Pa has always been there. He held a position above or equal to everyone else, and it was all because of success on the football field, and a great personality off of it.  It made sense that Joe Pa was a point of pride for the school, but his elevation to local God clearly backfired in a major way.

Athletics may help a number of major colleges and universities pay their bills and achieve national renown, but if we truly believe that College is a place for education, we need to remember that athletics answer to academics, and it can NEVER be the other way around. Penn State has clearly lost the tack on this issue. They allowed a man who ran ONE team on campus to basically run the whole campus, and from the allegations made in 1998 and 2002, it seems like there was little to no effective oversight of the program. Winning in football was what mattered, and everything else came second.

Is this an especially overblown reaction by yours truly? Am I being too harsh on Paterno? I don’t think so.

When it comes out that your football players were selling jerseys or breaking NCAA rules, like at OSU, it’s easy to shrug it off. But when it’s alleged that one of your former assistants was sexually abusing young boys in the showers of the football program’s facility? There is no such thing as an overblown reaction. The fact that it is alleged to have kept going for this long, and with other people’s knowledge (possibly including Paterno himself) is just downright scary.

Am I picking on Penn State here? You bet I am.

It seems like they promoted athletics over personal responsibility and even a very basic code of morals.  They verbally preached moral fortitude day in and day out.  And we all bought into it.  But they also allowed a man who had little to no academic bearing to run the University in many ways, and they placed an importance on football that many NFL teams don’t possess. They made it a professional sport at the school, and that is why they lost their way. Football did a lot of good at PSU for a long time, but relying on sports in an academic setting is simply not sustainable if an excellent overall university setting is what the school wants.

If there is one thing that other schools can take away from this situation it is that they all need to evaluate how highly they value athletics. Athletics can not be allowed to dominate the college landscape; college sports must answer to a higher authority at EACH individual university.

I’m certainly not saying that Joe Paterno is legally guilty of a crime, or that this is all his fault.  I don’t know enough to even begin to make those assertions. But I do know that the responsibility for this situation has rested firmly on his shoulders for years, as the leader of the school. Right now, it’s all allegations and criminal charges, and information is still coming out, but if it is all proven to be true, Joe Paterno has to bear the weight. After all, it was his show to run.

A house cleaning is in order no matter what, but on top of that, PSU (and every school) seriously needs to take a closer look at how they value athletics. Sports can do a lot for your school when approached correctly, but when football wins trump basic morals and values, something is clearly wrong.

We’ve seen scandals at a number of big-time D1 sports programs over the past couple of years, and for one reason or another they all seem to get compartmentalized. A little blame is given out, usually to a few players (many of whom have usually graduated already), and teams move on.

But I think, and truly hope, that something good will eventually come from this situation.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and big-time college athletics programs, and their respective Universities are in dire need of facing this fact.

We can not forget the people who were (allegedly) hurt, but moving forward is important too, and I hope schools take a closer look at the environments they are fostering on campus so that things like the PSU scandal don’t ever happen again.  This scandal is crushing Joe Paterno and Penn State football’s legacy already, and some will argue that this is unfair because nothing has been proven.  But the bottom line is that Joe Paterno ran the show at Penn State, this scandal allegedly happened right under his nose, and it was his JOB to make things right.  And no amount of past good deeds exonerates him from that responsibility now or in the future.


  1. Didn’t get to read this yet but what do you mean does Paterno need to go? He’s retiring at the end of the season. We should be focusing on the sick asshole who committed this act and those who covered it up. Paterno reported the incident to the higher authorities. Could have he done more and notified the police yes, but this incident has just shifted on Paterno so the media can try to make the incident more appaling. I feel like Sandusky is on the back burner of all this now. Redirect the focus where it needs to be…on Sandusky and the sick corrupt administrators who covered it up. 

    • Jimmy, I wonder why you call the administrators sick and corrupt and give Paterno a pass. How were they any more or less culpable than Paterno. None of them put the welfare of the kids who were being sodomized or otherwise abused ahead of Sandusky or Penn State. To say that Paterno passed the word on to other administrators and that relieved him of any responsibility is ridiculous. The law requires that the abuse of minors be reported to the police, not to your boss. As a father, I’m disgusted with everyone involved to include Paterno. I don’t think it takes away from the fact that he’s done a lot of good for Penn St., the community, etc. and I don’t think this episode makes him a bad man. In my mind, it does demonstrate that even good people make poor choices and find it hard to do the right thing all the time. I would hope that I could summon the courage to go to the police if I was told by a witness that a co-worker was raping a child.

      • The illusion that Joe Paterno reports to anyone on the Penn State campus is a joke and the failure of leadership on the academic side of the college is damning. JoePa is a celebrated FOOTBALL COACH who’s been allowed to to whatever he wants, whenever he wants. Under his watch children’s lives were tossed aside to protect one of his employees who he knew for 30 years. Now he’s an 85 year old who obviously doesnt understand whats going on. (Watch the YouTube clip of him leading a “WE ARE – PENN STATE” cheer on his lawn for proof)

        Tom is completely right…if I saw someone doing a horrible crime like that you better believe I would call the cops. Ask yourself the same thing.

        • I agree that what has happened is absolutely appalling, and that if anyone knew about this situation and didn’t report it they should be fired. However, these media frenzies, in my opinion, pressure administrators to act before all the facts of the investigation have been uncovered. I’ve heard from several news outlets that there is reason to believe all the facts about what had happened hadn’t reached Paterno. But that’s beside the point. Im saying that for someone in his position to be treated with the disrespect he has been showed there had better be incontrovertible proof of some pretty damning evidence against him. I just dont see how such a drastic decision could be made without a full investigation. As a lacrosse player I cant help but think of the Duke case. One of the first acts of a panicking University was to fire Mike Pressler before all the facts were in about the events that took place. I understand how emotional people can get about a case that involves children, but that is no excuse to break out the torches and go after the biggest name you can find. Its actually even more of a reason to thoroughly and comprehensively investigate what happened in order to find ALL guilty parties and bring them to justice.

          On a more personal note I agree that if Paterno had some part in covering this up then he should be released. But even in the worst case accounts, his role in all of it is small enough, in my opinion, that someone who has given so much to the community of Penn State, 61 years of coaching along with millions of dollars, and college athletics in general should be able to play out his last 4 games and retire with dignity. I also truly do not believe he meant to cause anyone any harm. I believe he is one of the few truly sincere figures in big time college football. His track record for giving back to the community and holding players accountable for their actions speaks for itself. I think that any part he had in this situation was most likely a very very unfortunate misunderstanding. I think Penn State handled this very poorly.

          • JoePa was an enabler. Not a criminal. But he shares the same responsibility as the rest of the people who lost their jobs. 

            Calling it a misunderstanding is trivializing the abuse that he admits was reported to him. He heard the words “Sandusky”, “Shower”, and “Inappropriate”. That’s enough.

            Appreciate you bringing the lax perspective but the comparison to the Duke case isn’t here.  

            This is an institutional failure all the way to the top. The number of victims coming forward has already doubled and the cover-up has been going on for over a decade. One phone call by JoePa or anyone else involved back in 2002 would have prevented everything that’s happened to him now and preserved his “dignity”.

            Unfortunately, it’s too late for all the kids who were victims since then.

  2. Also Paterno’s name is on school library…because he and his wife helped raise $13.75 million so it could be built. And to say winning was the number one priority and everything else second? Really? Joe Pa has always set high standards for his players when it comes to academics and if they’re not doing well in school they wont play. Year after year were in the top of the nation for graduation rates  of football players and 2011 was no exception. In 2011 we ranked 10th in the nation with 87 percent.

  3. Paterno, the AD and probably the president of the university are all toast.  It is just a matter of time.  As much as I love watching NCAA sports, the top end of it is a complete distortion of what universities should be about.  The BCS money is so large it magnifies the distortion. 

    The tragedy isn’t Paterno stepping down, it is what happened to innocent kids.

  4. I’m not sure all of the criticism of Joe Paterno’s power at PSU are fair.  He did have a lot of power, but up until now it’s not something he abused.  His players did well academically and when players got in trouble it was always handled in a fair way.  He earned the reputation he had which is what makes this situation so terrible.  The lack of action by everyone involved, including Paterno and Mike McQueary enabled Sandusky to do the terrible things that he did.  (Sandusky is going to be an old man incarcerated for abusing young boys, something that disgusts even convicted drug dealer and murders.  He’s going to have rough time in prison.)  
    The thing that strikes me about this is you can spend your whole life doing the right things and trying to live up to the morals you set for yourself; but one bad decision will erase everything.  Putting anything above protecting children from sexual predators makes you a bad person and cancels out everything you did before that.    

    I can’t understand why Mike McQueary hasn’t been let go yet.