The accusations now swirling above Happy Valley in State College, Pa. are perhaps the most troubling I can remember in a long time for a college athletics program. The allegations that a former and highly respected assistant coach at previously squeaky clean Penn State possibly sexually abused young boys is sickening. The further accusation that university officials failed to alert authorities to the problem and lied under oath about the matter is dizzying on top of that.
Ever since the story broke over the weekend, sports pundits — and there is no shortage of those — have speculated about what 85-year-old coach Joe Paterno knew and when he knew it regarding Jerry Sandusky, the Nittany Lions former defensive coordinator and Paterno’s one time heir-apparent. The now widely reported shower incident involving a young boy in the football lockerroom was reported to the man known as JoePa in 2002, he alerted his superiors at the university, then apparently did nothing but continue to roll toward the title he now holds as “college football’s winningest all-time coach.”
Paterno apparently met the minimum obligation in this case but could have and should have done more. I’ll note that even in 2002 the media drumbeat that Paterno was too old to coach football at a major university was already pretty loud. Today, it’s louder than ever.
Paterno is among the most respected figures in the history of the game. He wanted to go out on his own terms, which is why he stubbornly refused to retire even when the football program began to slip over the past decade.
Now he may go out with this mess hanging over his head.
There’s a lesson here somewhere.