The True Sadness of Joe Paterno's Passing

| January 23rd, 2012

Joe Paterno built one of the most prestigious and successful college football programs in the history of our country. He was a generous philanthropist, specifically in the State College area, and had a positive (almost fatherly) impact on the lives of every individual who spent a few years on the Penn State campus over the last fifty years. He preached – and there really is no better word for it – running a college football program “the right way”. As schools around the nation suffered sanctions and revocation of bowl eligibility for everything imaginable, Paterno continued to sport alarmingly high graduation rates for players and a relatively unscathed criminal record.

Then in 1998 Jerry Sandusky, famed defensive coordinator, admits to authorities he inappropriately showered with a young boy:

1998 — Penn State police and the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare investigate an incident in which the mother of an 11-year-old boy reported that Sandusky had showered with her son and may have had inappropriate conduct with him. In a June 1, 1998, interview with investigators from both agencies, Sandusky admits showering naked with the boy, admitting that it was wrong and promising not to do it again, according to the grand jury report. The district attorney advises investigators that no charges will be filed and the university police chief instructs that the case be closed, according to the testimony included in the grand jury report from the police detective who investigated the incident.

After subsequently being informed by Paterno that he’d not be the next Penn State head coach, Sandusky inexplicably retired from all of coaching. His parting gift? Full access to Penn State campus and facilities. We are meant to believe the timing of these two decisions are mere coincidence. We are meant to believe also that the nation’s most highly regarded defensive mind simply walked away from football in the prime of his coaching career. We are meant to believe Joe Paterno made his decisions on Sandusky’s future without knowledge of the failed investigation into his devious behavior.

What happened next in the life of Jerry Sandusky is one of the most deceitful, grotesque and vile chapters in human history. Sandusky utilized his Second Mile charity to prey upon disadvantaged boys, dangling Penn State as the carrot before the horse, taking sexual advantage in the basement of his home, in Paterno’s football facilities and in Bowl week hotel rooms.

Mike McQueary saw Sandusky pinning a boy in the shower in 2002. Sandusky was reported in the president’s box at Joe Paterno’s historic 409th victory. October. 2011.

Here is the true sadness of Joe Paterno’s passing: we’ll never know what he knew. We’ll never know what he said to Sandusky in 1999, leading to Sandusky’s shocking retirement. We’ll never know know how he orchestrated the post-McQueary coverup that swept this sordid tale under the Penn State rug for nearly a decade. For the rest of our lives most will be forced to debate the legacy of a man who put the reputation of the institution he loves ahead of the safety and security of the most vulnerable children in his community. Those who believe he knew little and acted as he thought best will be supported by his only public statements having supported that opinion. Those like me who believe he knew all that transpired within the walls of Penn State will never have the opportunity to hear Paterno asked the questions he needed to be asked.

It is a tragedy, his death, but not because he died. His death is a tragedy because he leaves so much unknown behind.