Unless you’ve been quite firmly ensconced beneath a rock these past couple of weeks, you know that Pennsylvania State University head football coach Joe Paterno was relieved of his job amid allegations that he covered up a sex abuse scandal that spanned more than a decade. Paterno himself didn’t abuse anyone, but his defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky did, and the victims were all young boys. Paterno was aware of the situation and shared it with university administrators, but did nothing to either expedite Sandusky’s removal or inform the authorities that the abuse was taking place.
Paterno’s firing has caused an uproar in the sports world because he is such a well-respected and successful coach. No one has won as many NCAA football games as he has. He is an institution at Penn State, so students are understandably upset and shaken by this departure.
However, I for one am completely in favor of the actions taken by PSU’s board. It doesn’t matter that Paterno has so many victories or that he is so beloved by his university community. The notion that that absolves him of his negligence and indifference is ludicrous. Paterno failed to protect Sandusky’s victims. If he had behaved respectably when he first became aware of what was going on, he would be leaving Penn State with a positive, even heroic, legacy. As it is, this is how he’ll be remembered.
I think it’s more important than ever that people in positions like Paterno’s be held accountable for their actions. The more respect and trust your community gives you, the greater your responsibility to behave with humility and integrity. If I found out that a player or coach for the Rockies whom I dearly loved had done something like this, I’d want him let go immediately. It would be painful for sure, but there must be consequences for these kinds of things. I’m not setting myself above Paterno or Sandusky, though I hope I would have done the opposite of what they chose to do. I understand that nobody’s perfect and everyone makes mistakes. But that old adage, while it should give us pause before we judge the motives of others, doesn’t for one second preclude the necessity of consequences. Someone has to pay for what those boys suffered, and I think it’s entirely appropriate that Paterno be one of those people.
Don’t take my word for it though. Check out Ross Douthat’s op-ed in the New York Times this past weekend. He says it way more eloquently than I ever could.