In the winter of 2002, Joe Paterno’s 36-year tenure as Penn State’s head football coach (he had been a member of the coaching staff since 1950) was in potentially serious trouble. A series of embarrassing incidents were beginning to draw Paterno’s reputation as a man who ran an unusually disciplined and “character-building” program into question. In 1997, Paterno suspended his two biggest offensive stars, Curtis Enis and Joe Jurevicius, for relatively minor infractions. In 1998 he defended LaVar Arrington, his all-American linebacker, after he brutally assaulted a defenseless Pittsburgh punter in the middle of a game. Then in 2000 he allowed his quarterback Rashard Casey to start every game despite being charged with assaulting (this time off the field) a cop. (Update: A grand jury subsequently declined to bring charges against Casey, although his companion that evening ended up pleading guilty to the same charge brought against Casey. Casey later sued the police department and received an undisclosed cash settlement).
These incidents were beginning to put a bit of a dent into Paterno’s previously squeaky clean image. Still in regard to job security, Paterno faced a much bigger problem. Big time college football is, despite the ridiculous battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton nonsense trafficked in by sportswriters who lionize men like Paterno, all about winning. And PSU wasn’t doing much of that at the moment — the team was coming off the worst two-season record the program had endured in 70 years.
Paterno was 75 years old. In the winter of 2002, he was for the first time dealing with genuine discontent in the PSU fan base about the state of the program. There were rumblings that, if he didn’t get things turned around soon, the administration would put serious pressure on him to quit. Then, on March 2nd, he got a phone call from a member of his staff, informing him that he had seen his former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky sodomizing a ten-year-old child in the football locker room (the staff member’s version of the conversation) or “fondling or doing something of a sexual nature” to the ten-year-old boy in the otherwise empty, locked building, at 8:30 on a Friday night (Paterno’s version, which he gave as sworn testimony before a grand jury).
It’s hardly speculative to conclude that, in March of 2002, Joe Paterno was well aware that, if what he had just heard about Sandusky became public, it would likely cost him his job — especially since a full-blown criminal investigation of the matter would probably reveal that Paterno knew about an earlier investigation of Sandusky in 1998, which was inexplicably dropped, shortly before Sandusky’s all-too-convenient “retirement” from the PSU staff. And Joe Paterno has always been better at holding onto his job than anything else.
It’s now clear Paterno did what he had to do to ensure that Mike McQueary’s revelation to his coach and quasi-father confessor, whose team he had co-captained a few years earlier, disappeared down the memory hole. And here we are today.
Today, Paterno released the following statement:
I am absolutely devastated by the developments in this case. I grieve for the children and their families, and I pray for their comfort and relief.
I have come to work every day for the last 61 years with one clear goal in mind: To serve the best interests of this university and the young men who have been entrusted to my care. I have the same goal today.
That’s why I have decided to announce my retirement effective at the end of this season. At this moment the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status. They have far more important matters to address. I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can.
This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.
My goals now are to keep my commitments to my players and staff and finish the season with dignity and determination. And then I will spend the rest of my life doing everything I can to help this University.
Here’s a photo of the “devastated” Paterno, from last night:
Paterno has known for at least nine years (realistically, at least 13 years, and probably longer) that the PSU administration — which for all practical purposes meant Joe Paterno — was covering up the crimes of a serial child rapist. The only “developments” in this case are that now everybody else knows it as well.
Everyone associated with that coverup, from university president Graham Spanier on down, should be fired immediately by PSU’s Board of Trustees. That, under the circumstances, would be an act of “dignity and determination.” Anything less would be an extension of a disgusting travesty — one which was created and maintained by, above all, Joe Paterno’s decision to cover up a long series of atrocious crimes, and to allow those crimes to continue, so as to save his job and reputation.