If football has anything to do with choices, then there’s no point in any discussion. Joe Paterno is a legend in college football, and at Penn State. But there is no separate set of rules to guide the lives of college football legends.
Two people witnessed Jerry Sandusky molesting children, though molesting appears to be too kind a word. Raping a ten-year-old boy in the Penn State showers is another way to put it. One witness, the janitor, now suffers from dementia. The other was then-grad student Mike McQueary, former quarterback, coaching hopeful. A young man who was hardly equipped to deal with what he saw, but he knew he had to do something.
As the lowest man on the coaching totem pole, he went to the top. He told JoePa, who sent him straight away to the Athletic Director. Joe Paterno was an old man, but no better equipped to handle what happened than the kid.
With three games left to another great football season, Paterno has been fired by the Penn State Board, after having submitted his resignation after the end of the season. The University president, Graham Spanier, is out as well, though nobody really cares since he doesn’t coach football. Oddly enough, it leaves Mike McQueary on the sidelines.
Students rioted at Penn State last night, following the announcement of Paterno’s firing. Football is big there. Sports are big there. Even though Sandusky’s arrest on a 40 count indictment was only a few days old, the crimes alleged were ancient to Penn State students.
In an ugly episode that has torn at the soul of a proud university, set off criminal investigations and ended the career of one of the sport’s most accomplished and revered coaches, McQueary has occupied among the strangest of positions: he could be the star witness in the coming criminal cases against senior officials at the university; he has become the target for widespread criticism for not having acted more decisively himself nine years ago; and he could well be on the sideline Saturday for the game against Nebraska, helping execute a game plan devised by the coach he once dreamed he might succeed. A Penn State victory would leave it in position to reach a major bowl game.
This Saturday’s football game was far more real. If years had gone by since Sandusky anally raped a young boy at Penn State, couldn’t it all wait until the end of the season? Wasn’t there some sort of investigation or legal process that could explain why everything needed to be kept under wraps until a bowl game?
The odd thing is that no one seems to question that Jerry Sandusky was a child molester. While it’s only at the indictment stage, this piece of the story has been taken as a given. No one should ever have to wonder what to do when a kid grad-assistant tells you that he saw another person raping a young boy, because this shouldn’t happen. But it did.
Even though Paterno is a coach, he’s part of the academy. Granted, coaches are in a special wing of the academy, built for people whose intellectual prowess manifests in different ways, and who make millions of dollars for their prowess. But still, there is an acknowledged, and accepted, duty that a college coach is supposed to put the welfare of students, of children, ahead of the sport. At least, that’s the theory.
No one is suggesting that Joe Paterno be indicted for his passing Mike McQueary along to Athletic Director Tim Curley, who was indicted for lying to the grand jury about what McQueary told him. However, scandals demand action, and the Board acted. There was no threat that leaving Paterno as coach for a few more weeks would put anyone at risk, but there was a threat that the Board’s failure to act suggested that it failed to fulfill its duty. The Board’s path was no clearer than Paterno’s almost ten years earlier.
And now Mike McQueary is the bad guy for having been the sole witness capable of telling the story. He becomes responsible for what’s happening now to Paterno and to the Penn State Nittany Lions. Certainly the football players did nothing to deserve to suffer, though some question whether McQueary’s going to Paterno rather than the police was sufficient.
The fiasco may have just become public, but happened in 2002. A young man saw something no young man should ever have to see. He told an old man, a legend even then, who passed him along to his technical superior because he was no more clear on what to do than anyone else. And the superior engaged in allopathic triage, making the symptoms disappear without curing the disease, all in the hope that this would never be known. Primary was the protection of the Penn State football program.
Paterno won’t be prosecuted because he committed no crime. But his legendary career ended horribly, as allegedly did the virginity of young boys in the hands of Jerry Sandusky. There is no established protocol for how to handle a situation like this, and the question remains what Paterno should have done in 2002, once he knew what no one ever wants to know. The same question has to be asked of every person along the line.
Many believe, as I do, that there is no crime more horrific than one committed against a child. We demonize these criminals, and properly so. There is no word sufficiently bad to express the disgust of these animals. To have done nothing more than pass McQueary off to Curley may have been no crime, but it was also an inadequate response of a human being, not to mention a putative educator. No football game is more important. No friendship is more important. There is no hiding from Jerry Sandusky anally raping a young boy.
There must be a protocol, a path, that is clear and known to anyone claiming membership in this race. You do not turn your head away from a child being raped. Not even if you’re Joe Paterno. And not even if you’re Mike McQueary. No, it’s not a violation of the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It is a violation of our obligation as human beings. That’s a damn good reason to lose a job. Immediately.
I like football. There is no game important enough to ignore that these men knew about Jerry Sandusky’s raping a young boy and did not do everything in their power to stop it and him. Joe Paterno no longer has a choice. Mike McQueary does. Where will he be on Saturday?