Joe Paterno: “I wish I had done more”

Members of the Penn State Board of Trustees have fired long-time winning football coach Joe Paterno, as well as the university president, Graham Spanier, in the wake of a child sex abuse scandal that is rocking that campus.

From the New York Times, which reported the end of Paterno’s career the day before:

The university’s most senior officials were clearly seeking to halt the humiliating damage caused by the arrest last Saturday of the former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky had been a key part of the football program, but prosecutors have said he was a serial pedophile who was allowed to add victims over the years in part because the university he had served was either unable or unwilling to stop him.       

Sandusky has been charged with sexually abusing eight boys over a 15-year span, and two top university officials — Tim Curley, the athletic director, and Gary Schultz, the senior vice president for finance and business — have been charged with perjury and failing to report to authorities what they knew of the allegations. Neither Paterno nor Spanier was charged in the case, though questions have been raised about if they did as much as they could to stop Sandusky.       

For that, the career of the much-loved Paterno is forever tainted. He wishes, he says, that he’d done more. But let us forever protect the Penn State brand. Is it coincidence that Paterno remained coach just long enough to become the winningest, ever, Division 1 football? Elizabeth Gettleman at Mother Jones doesn’t think so, and I’m afraid she may be right.

Here is Paterno’s statement, released after his firing.

Perhaps one day the rest of us will know the details of this case. Sandusky will go through the court system. I hope the victims have whatever they need during the trial, because the support they’ve had up to now has been lacking. Despite Paterno’s stellar (up to now) record, I would rather see our attention go to the victims.

Is any one gathering to rally in support of them? Penn State students have rallied for their former coach. They’ve chanted his name.

Meanwhile, where are those victims, both the ones who’ve been identified, and those who haven’t? A serial child sex abuser is like a cancer cell, with ugly tentacles that stretch into the distant beyond (See Reardon, George). We still don’t know how many children suffered at the hands of St. Francis Hospital’s former head of endocrinology. Two hundred? Five hundred? A thousand? He, too, was able to operate because no one on the hospital staff said anything. A-ny-thing. For decades.

Do the authorities ever find all the victims? Is any one propping them up? Supporting them as the students are supporting Paterno?

Whatever we learn in the coming weeks, I wish Paterno, revered icon that he was, had done more, too. If we don’t speak up when we suspect abuse, sexual abuse continues, generation after generation. And the attention paid to this coach — and not to the children who were abused by Sandusky — needs to shift to the people who really need it.

Published by datingjesus

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  1. And the attention paid to this coach — and not to the children who were abused by Sandusky — needs to shift to the people who really need it.

    I couldn’t agree with you more! Paterno has become the victim according to many of his fans. The real victims have already become invisible to them. I hope the discussion shifts.

    I requested an investigation once – based purely on a child’s comment. I didn’t witness anything. A social worker checked it out and decided everything was ok. I never regretted speaking up for a second. I cannot imagine witnessing abuse of a child or hearing from someone who had witnessed abuse, and not speaking up and/or intervening.

  2. Just to be clear, Joe Paterno did speak up when he suspected abuse, but he did so to his superiors and not to police.

    Also, I’m not sure that more media attention is what the victims need. I do think that you are right, though: they probably need someone’s support.

    1. Agreed. I think they need the right kind of attention, and that would not — I suspect — be the media. And I say that as a member of the media. Would that Paterno had gone to the police. Is he a mandated reporter? I would have thought so.

  3. I agree the children need the right kind of attention, but the issue of child abuse and the often devastating effects needs more media attention. Over and over, we hear about the accused and the adults involved after a sexual abuse situation comes to light. The effects on the victims are missed – they aren’t acknowledged or “felt” by the public. Instead, many people are upset that Paterno was so “disrespectfully fired”. When do we hear about the effects? When we talk about criminals like Komisarjevsky – when empathy for the abused is not possible.

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