Sobering Lessons from the Firing of Joe Paterno

I must admit that Coach Joe Paterno–a football coaching legend at Penn State for the past forty-six years–has been a hero of mine for decades. When he became PSU’s coach in 1965, I was just entering my junior high school years when sports was very important to me.

Coach Paterno made a deep impression. He seemed to be fair, disciplined, a man of integrity and faith, and he produced a great football program. In 2011 he became the winningest coach in all of Division I football history. In an age of slick and arrogant coaches, Joe Pa seemed to be the “Gold Standard” of steadiness and grace.

So when I heard he’d been fired because of some child abuse charges being leveled at a former assistant coach, I inwardly reacted like many Penn State students did. I thought to myself, “Discipline the offender but spare Coach Joe Pa!”

But I was wrong. Joe Paterno needed to go.

Here’s why–and many other things we can learn from the Penn State fiasco.

There was one primary reason I was wrong about Coach Paterno’s firing. I didn’t have the facts. You will never have good judgment about a person or event if you don’t know the truth.

For a few days I sympathized with Coach Paterno and felt that he should stay. Why should a legendary coach be punished for the sins of an assistant? We’d been told in the beginning that Coach Paterno had done his legal obligation. We were also told that he was not under investigation.

So I thought “Just let him finish out the year and then he can step down gracefully.”

One day later the Penn State board of trustees fired him.

How could that be? Was it fair, or just a knee-jerk reaction to an unpleasant situation?

Then I read the state grand jury report–in its entirety. I found it on-line and it came with a disclaimer that the contents of the report were graphic and needed to be looked at with caution.

They were right to warn us. The report turned my stomach.

But the truth set me straight: Joe Paterno needed to be fired.

If you have any doubts, here is the link to the damning realities that took place at Penn State from 1994 to 2009. Before you go there, let me lay out the basic scenario for you.

On November 5, 2011 former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, a one time heir apparent to Coach Paterno, was arrested and released on $100,000 bail after being arraigned on forty criminal charges. The grand jury report states that he raped and abused young boys between the age of ten and fourteen from at least 1994 to 2009.

Some of the serial sex abuse of minors took place on the Penn State campus and in its training rooms. At this point there are eight victims that have come forward. There may be many more.

All of Sandusky’s victims were recruited through a charity he had established called The Second Mile for children from foster or dysfunctional homes. Instead of helping these kids, Sandusky abused and used them for his own sexual pleasures.

In 1999, Sandusky retired from his Penn State duties but still held emeritus status at the college and had access to the athletic facilities. In the fall of 2000, a janitor walked in on Sandusky having sexual contact with a young boy called Victim 8. The janitor reported it to other janitors but a police report was never filed.

On March 1, 2002, a graduate assistant named Mike McQueary (who was on the Penn State coaching staff until forced to take a “leave of absence” just a week ago) saw a naked boy of about ten years old called Victim 2 being sexually assaulted by Sandusky in the Penn State shower room. McQueary was distraught and reported the news to Coach Paterno the next day.

On March 3, Joe Paterno called Tim Curley, Penn State’s athletics director to his home and reported a version of what his grad assistant had told him. Later in the month, McQueary was invited to a meeting with Curley and Gary Schultz, senior vice president for finances and business. The grad assistant reported what he had seen and Curley and Shultz said they would look into it.

On March 27, 2002 McQueary was informed that Sandusky’s locker room keys had been taken away and that the incident had been reported to The Second Mile (Sandusky’s charity). McQueary was never questioned by campus police and heard nothing about any follow-up until he was called to testify before the state grand jury in December, 2010.

Sandusky continued to seduce and rape young boys in his College Township home from 2002-2009. Finally, a boy named in the report as Victim 1, who was eleven or twelve when he met Sandusky, told authorities through a counselor that Sandusky inappropriately touched him several times in a four year period.

In September 2010 Sandusky retired from day to day involvement in The Second Mile charity.

Last week he was arrested, Curley, Schultz and Paterno were fired, McQueary was put on administrative leave, and the Penn State nightmare exploded on the national stage.

All because of one pedophile monster–who has ruined the lives of maybe dozens of young children–and because no one was willing to step forward and do what was right.

There are many sobering things we can learn from the Penn State debacle and actions that must be taken for the university to move forward:

1. We all must be willing to speak out and go to the police when we see a crime being committed. Child rape is a crime–one that can devastate a child for life. There were many people in the Penn State orbit who miserably failed to do their duty–including Coach Paterno. They may have reported what they saw to superiors above them, but that wasn’t good enough. They may have been legally right, but failed the moral test. We need to speak up against sin so that others cannot be hurt.

2. In our sex-crazed society, we must realize that pedophilia and many other sexual sins are not okay–they are brutal and traumatic to individuals and our nation as a whole. Especially the sexual exploitation of children–which takes many forms today including child trafficking and prostitution. We must repent of our sexual debauchery and especially work hard to protect the children.

3. We must admit that power and profits and not more important than individual lives. Each year the Penn State football program nets over 50 million dollars for the university. The athletic director and the vice president for finance did not want to get involved because they were afraid of losing money and prestige. Now they will lose scores of millions of dollars in future civil lawsuits. Your greed will find you out.

4. It takes a lifetime to build a good name, but it can be destroyed through one lapse of judgment. Joe Paterno is a great coach. But his legacy has now been tarnished forever. No matter how many games he won or the character he exhibited during a half century of coaching, it is all scarred now by one colossal act of mis-judgment. He should have followed up with his superiors. Kids were being raped! He should have gone to the police. Rather, he did his nominal part and walked away. It will cost him his legacy.

5. Penn State should release its entire football coaching staff and start over with a new group. It also might be a good idea to voluntarily restrict themselves from post-season play for a year or two to re-establish credibility in the eyes of the public. Some are calling for the shutting down of the football program for a period of time. That wouldn’t be fair to the current players. They shouldn’t suffer for the sins of Jerry Sandusky. However, there must be a house-cleaning to restore the PSU name and brand. That will take some wisdom, integrity and time.

I am really saddened by this story of sexual abuse and cover-up in the sports world.  However, it does give us all a good opportunity to look in the mirror.

Most of us think we are pretty good people, or that we’ve been redeemed by God’s grace. But maybe some are harboring secret sins and moral miscalculations that God’s “grand jury report” will one day make plain to the world (it’s called Judgement Day).

When the facts are seen–the truth will be clear about our lives as well.

Only through Christ can our “good name” (and future) be restored.


(Click here to read the grand jury report on the case against Penn State.)






Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.