Paterno Fired: Villain or Victim?

Paterno Fired: Villain or Victim?

It became official late Wednesday night: Joe Paterno was fired from his position as head coach of Penn State, effective immediately. After the events and revelations that have transpired in the last five days, it’s hard to say I am surprised. The magnitude of this investigation was simply too great for Penn State not to take immediate action. Although I feel that this was the inevitable, correct decision for the University to make, I refuse to jump on the Paterno hater bandwagon.

Shortly before I heard the news of his firing, I finished reading the Jerry Sandusky grand jury report. The 23-page report was incredibly disturbing to say the least. It made me sick to my stomach. The report also confirmed, however, that numerous people were aware of some sort of improper behavior by Sandusky years before and after Paterno was informed of the matter. Why are their faces not on the front pages of news sources with people calling for their heads?

I am making no attempt to defend people who failed to do the best thing possible in the matter. But I refuse to imply, like so many others are, that Paterno was the sole person who stood in the way of Sandusky being arrested years ago. I refuse to only focus on Paterno simply because he is Joe Paterno.  

If we want to blame just one person, then let’s focus on the janitor who walked in on Sandusky and a child in the shower and failed to take “proper action” two years before Paterno became aware of improper behavior. Or the 28-year-old graduate assistant who walked in on another sexual encounter in the shower and went to his dad before letting Paterno know of the matter. His dad? He didn’t bother to run in and stop what was happening, call the police, and THEN report it to the head coach and athletic director?

I don’t want to put all the blame on the graduate assistant either, or anybody else for that matter; I’m just trying to reiterate that the problem of failing to take the best action goes way beyond Paterno or any one person. This story has really only been public knowledge since Sandusky was indicted on Nov. 4th. The general public is way too quick to jump to conclusions about who’s to blame after five days of headlines.

I’m not a Penn State fan hoping to remember the ‘good times’ of a beloved coach, nor am I trying to preserve the legacy of a legend. We all know his impressive coaching résumé by now. But to think  that Joe Paterno is now one big hypocrite after five days of emotional news is unfair. This case revolves around an investigation that took three years to develop; it seems a little hasty to make knee-jerk decisions about a man’s character in less than a week. Especially considering we don’t know what specific conversations were had by whom and at what time.

This case sickens me as much as it does anybody else. But the fact that so many are willing to place the blame on one person in an incredibly complicated case just because he is the easy target is irresponsible.


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  • It's not a matter of "since those people weren't punished, we shouldn't punish him" it's that ALL those people should be looked upon with scorn and the highest ranking person to let this go should be accountable.

    We cannot do enough to protect our children and make examples out of those who fail to do so.

    I took some serious heat and will suffer lifelong consequences for voicing my opinion on my blog about not allowing strange men to be in the toilet stall with my daughter. But you know what? At the end of the day they can crucify me from limb to limb if it makes my child an ounce safer.

    Thank you for addressing this matter on Chicago Now.

  • Jenna,
    Thank you for your input! I also applaud your courage for standing up for what you think is right, regardless of what reactions might be. Thanks again.

  • Bet some Catholic bishops wished they were coaches of sports rather than religion. Rare hypocrisy.

  • In reply to RareGuy:

    Why? How many bishops were punished for doing the same thing Paterno did?

    Every one with any knowledge of this guy's actions should be fired, pronto.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    Point was, that the coach had kids and others rallying in front of his house. How sick. Shows a weird way of viewing the world, when a sports icon can have that much support, simply because he knows X's and O's.

    Catholic bishops should have been jailed or shot. So should the coach. Sorry, sports fans.

  • I agree with what you say about there being so many people who need to be held accountable in this matter. But the answer to the headline question is clearly "villain" - although not the only one.

    Like the others you mentioned, Paterno was essentially one of Sandusky's enablers. And I agree that we shouldn't "only focus on Paterno simply because he is Joe Paterno".

    But I also believe that because he is "the legendary" Joe Paterno his behavior is a bigger disappointment - he's the leader of the program and he did the absolute minimum that was legally required.

    After Sandusky, Paterno's behavior was the most shameful because his reputation left us expecting better - much better - from him.

    I found a good column about "The Shame of Joe Paterno" and posted an excerpt on my blog today. I hope you don't mind me sharing the link here:

  • In reply to Ed Nickow:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree with much about what you have said. Of course I don’t mind you sharing this link! This is why we are here!

  • Usually covering-up sex scandal is a recruiting advantage (see Da U), but not this kind of sick sex scandal.

  • Victim or villain? Both. Paterno has said he could have / should have done more...villain. Paterno has been the highest profile person (lets be honest, he's the most popular person at the University......still) to be let go because of this and has gotten the lion's share (pun not intended) of the blame for this.....victim. For god's sakes one of the university top executives in the meeting years ago was the ranking faculty in charge of the university police!!!! Nothing was done. Anybody who had anything to do with this, from the discovery to the attempted cover-up needs to be let go, including the entire coaching staff ( no way they didn't all know at some point...people talk). Everybody shares blame and shame in this debacle of justice for victims of heinous crime.

    Playing the game was the correct decison. The current players had NOTHING to do with this and should not pay the price by not being able to finish their season, let alone the seniors' last home game. The entire pre-game introductions, team enterance and prayer was classy, handled with respect and dignified.

    For a great career to end like this, is also a shame. Great coaches who don't know when it's time to leave: (Joe Paterno, Bobby Bowden, Gene Keady, Gary Barnett).....I'm probabaly missing few......seldom get to do so on their terms.....also a shame.

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