Wiedmer: Nowhere for Paterno to go but away from his PSU job

Wiedmer: Nowhere for Paterno to go but away from his PSU job

November 9th, 2011 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

In this Jan. 1, 2003 file photo, Joe Paterno, Oenn State head football coach, walks along the sideline during the Capital One Bowl against Auburn, in Orlando. Auburn won, 13-9. Penn State administrators on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011 canceled Paterno's weekly news conference, in which he was expected to field questions about a sex-abuse scandal involving former defensive coach Jerry Sandusky. (AP Photo/Phelan Ebenhack, File)

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

POLL: Should Penn State coach Joe Paterno resign?

Charles Minor has been a child abuse prosecutor for Hamilton County since April of this year. In that brief time he's already seen more sexual abuse cases than he can count. It's kept him so busy that he admits to having read only a few sordid details of the grand jury evidence against former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

But one fact troubles him above all others. Whether it has anything directly to do with Penn State football coach Joe Paterno remains to be seen.

"It's most unusual," he said, "that [Sandusky] was reportedly caught in the act by two separate individuals two years apart and neither person contacted 9-1-1. You see something as awful as a young boy being raped by an adult, you'd think you'd call 9-1-1 immediately."

You'd think.

Just like you'd think a man held in such high esteem as the 84-year-old Paterno would swiftly place what was right above what was required, would embrace the maximum he could do to help these eight (and possibly more) victims rather than the minimum.

Then again, no man hangs on to his job as tenaciously as Paterno has the past 10 or 12 years, sometimes coaching from the press box, sometimes unable to give a pre-game pep talk due to health issues, without placing himself above the program.

So why would anyone think him any less likely to place the image of the Nittany Lions' heretofore squeaky clean brand above the legal rights and emotional needs of eight (and possibly more) young adults allegedly sexually molested as young boys by his former defensive coordinator?

Has there ever been a better example of Sir John Dalberg-Acton's famous line: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely"?

Around State College, Pa, in the suddenly (Un)Happy Valley, there has never been a more powerful figure than Joseph Vincent Paterno. He's guided Penn State to two national championships (1982 and 1986), given with his wife $4 million to the university and been a central figure in the school's endowment growing from next to nothing during his first year as head coach in 1966 to more than $1 billion today.

As ESPN writer Michael Weinreb -- who grew up in State College -- noted Tuesday afternoon, "Joe Paterno was always the moral compass of this town. He is this town."

In March of 2002 -- if not four years sooner -- Paterno's moral compass went haywire.

The 2002 date is when a graduate assistant reportedly saw Sandusky raping a 10-year-old boy in an athletic complex shower. Why Mike McQueary, now a full member of Paterno's coaching staff, didn't call the police that night instead of phoning his father is the first sign that something wasn't quite right with the priorities at PSU.

Especially since a school custodian had witnessed virtually the same act two years earlier.

That Paterno -- when McQueary contacted him the next day -- didn't immediately call the police and say, "We have a problem," rather than informing his GA that Sandusky was no longer on staff, but he'd inform the school's athletic director, is the second sign of trouble.

Or maybe it was the third, because both university and State College police had investigated Sandusky in 1998 after a mother of one of the victims went to the police about the coach showering with her son.

At least one of those law enforcement officials told the grand jury that he heard Sandusky tell the mother over the phone, "I understand I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won't get it from you. I wish I were dead."

Yet we're to somehow believe that the moral compass of State College was never informed of this? That the first inkling the moral compass of State College had that his former defensive coordinator was a perverted sicko preying on young boys was four years later?


What happens next is anyone's guess. Strong as Minor believes the case against Sandusky to be -- "To a moral certainty I know this person is guilty," he said -- he also noted, "Child sexual abuse cases are incredibly difficult to prosecute. People are very distrustful of these types of cases."

And perhaps that will be Paterno's alibi. He couldn't believe his trusted assistant could possibly commit such disturbing acts against defenseless children. And the details are shocking. Anyone reading them should do so on an empty stomach hours removed from their next meal.

But what should happen to Paterno is as black as his coaching shoes and as white as his socks. Paterno must step aside as soon as possible, promising to give whatever financial assistance possible to the victims he might have saved with a single phone call to the police nine years ago, if not 13.

Wrote Lord Acton in 1887 during a conflict in the Catholic Church: "I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility."

Or as former Penn State linebacker Matt Millen -- ironically a board member of Sandusky's Second Mile charity -- emotionally proclaimed Tuesday, "If we can't protect our kids, we as a society are pathetic."

None more so than Paterno, who for his good works, will soon exit public life as the pathetic moral compass of (Un)Happy Valley.