In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse trial and The Pennsylvania State University’s cover-up, the role of deceased head football coach Joe Paterno in the scandal has been determined.
On June 12, the investigative team PSU, which was hired to do an internal investigation of the situation, published their 267-page review called the Freeh report. Named after former FBI director Louis Freeh, who led the investigation, the report comes to the conclusion that Paterno, along with former PSU President Graham Spanier, Vice President Gary Shultz and Athletic Director Tim Curley, conspired to hide Sandusky’s sexual abuse from the authorities for 14 years.
Ten days after the Freeh Report was released, PSU President Rodney Erickson and the PSU board of trustees ordered that the statue of Paterno be removed. Erickson claimed the statue, which had stood in front of Beaver Stadium since 2001, had become “a source of division and an obstacle to healing [for PSU] and beyond.”
The next morning, the NCAA, under the direction of President Mark Emmert, imposed unprecedented sanctions against the PSU football program. These included a $60 million fine that will benefit child sex abuse awareness programs, a four-year postseason ban, a reduction in the number of football scholarships to a total of 65 over the next four years, and a five-year probationary period.
These penalties drew mixed reactions from around the country. Some believed that the punishment was too harsh and that the current football program should not pay the price for mistakes of individuals who are no longer at PSU. Others believed the football program should have received the “death penalty,” meaning it would cease operations for a minimum of one year.
In addition, the NCAA stripped Paterno and the PSU football program of all 111 of their wins from 1998 to 2011. Paterno’s career win count dropped from 409 to 298, sending him from first to 12th in NCAA Division I history. However, those associated with the PSU community knew that he contributed more than wins to the football program and the university.
According to analysis done in 2011 by the New America Foundation, PSU ranked No. 1 in the Academic Bowl Championship Series. More than 80 percent of the football players under Paterno’s regime graduated in six years or fewer, the best mark of any program that qualified for the ranking.
Paterno and his family donated over $4 million to academic programs at PSU, including enough money to change the name of the Pattee Library at PSU to the Pattee-Paterno Library. In addition, they have donated over $1 million to the Mount Nittany Medical Center in State College, the premier hospital in central Pennsylvania.
Even though much of his life’s work was positive, it is still extremely difficult to look past the fact that Paterno allowed Sandusky to roam free and continue to sexually abuse children.
During Paterno’s first 34 years as head football coach from 1966 to 1999, there were only four seasons in which the Nittany Lions failed to reach a bowl game. In five seasons from 2000 to 2004, the program matched that number. Following the 2004 season, Spanier discussed with Paterno that it might be in PSU’s best interest for the then 78-year-old coach to step down.
As one of the most respected men in NCAA history and the figurehead of PSU, Paterno awarded himself the power to decline the notion, thinking it would be best for him to continue coaching.
Could it have been because he was an old man with “no other hobbies,” as he claimed? Or was he afraid the Sandusky cover-up would be revealed without his watchful eye? No one knows for sure. But by expressing his denial of Spanier’s request, Paterno showed his true power: He was above the president of PSU and sat on the very top of the program’s unspoken hierarchical chart.
In his original story, Paterno said that he sent Mike McQueary, witness to one of Sandusky’s abuses in 2002, to his superiors and thought his job was finished. In a legal sense he was correct, but for a man of such supposed moral standards, it was hardly enough.
After Paterno was removed as head football coach in November 2011, he said he felt remorse and “should have done more” to protect the children Sandusky was abusing.
Paterno was known for being such a noble and transcending man, but when it came down to it, he could not gather the courage to report his friend to the proper authorities. He was brave enough to stand up to his superiors when they wanted him to step down as football coach, but he faltered when something truly important was on the line.
From this information, it can be inferred that Paterno had a minimal, if any, number of superiors. He made nearly all of the decisions regarding the football program and its associated staff, past and present. He made the decision to continue coaching after the 2004 season, just as he made the decision to cover up Sandusky’s crimes.
For years and years, Paterno did so much for PSU on and off the football field, but at what cost? He gave his student-athletes a chance for a great education, built them up as better men and helped strengthen an entire university. But are all those things more important than allowing children to face the wrath of a sex offender for 14 years?
Now his wins are gone, his PSU legacy is tarnished, and his overall legitimacy as a human being is in question. On the morning of June 27, Paterno’s statue was moved out of a holding room in Beaver Stadium to an undisclosed location. As of right now, his name remains on the library, but for how much longer?
Many lessons can be taken away from this entire situation. For Paterno’s part in this tale, we need to remember that no one man is ever above society, no matter how perfect he may seem to be.