The Real Tragedy at Penn State

If you look at today’s headlines, it’s all about Joe Paterno. Was he wrongly fired? Should he have been allowed to retire at the end of the season? Why didn’t he do more? Every media pundit and analyst has an opinion – as well as many of the players he coached throughout his 50 years.

Yes, the man is 84. And yes, it’s a shame that his career is ending in this way. But the real tragedy does not center around him. The real tragedy is that eight kids and their families will pay perhaps a lifetime price for trusted adults’ failures to live up to their moral obligations. Perhaps Joe followed standard protocol. But how could he not realize this was not a standard situation?


A 10 year old showering with one of his coaches? In no way can this be considered normal, or
justifiable. Not only did Joe fail in reporting this to the police – which every adult, especially those in position of leadership and authority must do – but he allowed the assistant coach to remain with the team! How many other little boys may have suffered because Paterno and school administrators were more concerned about PSU’s team and its reputation than the safety and welfare of children.

An excellent column by San Francisco Chronicle writer Steve Oster pretty well sums up what many of us feel today. Every person that had the power to stop this predator failed to do so – all the way up to the school president. Joe Paterno was synonymous with Penn State and football. He was a leader there for decades. Yet it seems that he was so concerned about his legacy, the team, the game, that he failed to report this to the police. He put aside his ethics, his obligations as a member of our society, and by passing the buck, enabled a predator to continue abusing little boys.

The real tragedy here isn’t Paterno’s firing. The real tragedy is that these boys were among the thousands who are sexually exploited and abused each year. They are also among those whose abuse may have been prevented, had the adults involved in this horrible scenario acted instead of hoping things would just go away.

That means you Joe – you and the others that cared more about your own legacies and the school’s reputation than about doing what was right to stop a sick child abuser. This matters more than any win, loss, or trophy.

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