I read and re-read Jenkins' story and, apart from wondering why JoePa elected to explain himself to her instead of one of the Penn State beat writers who have covered him and his program for years (I'm guessing it was because Paterno's attorney, who sat in on the two sessions, is Wick Sollers, of the Washington firm of King & Spalding), my initial reaction was one of profound sadness for an individual whose many good deeds should not be tossed aside so capriciously because he might have made an error in judgment, even if that error does in fact prove monumental in scope.
Then again, these past months have enabled me to remove, as much as is humanly possible, blind anger from my own thought processes and to consider a horrifying situation whose full implications might not be made known until Sandusky stands trial and is accorded the due process that all Americans are constitutionally guaranteed.
One of the benefits of having an opinion is that you don't have to be without sin to cast the first stone.
My own hesitancy to arrive at an immediate conclusion on an incendiary topic and to etch it in stone comes from sort-of personal experience. Someone very close to me has an autistic son who allegedly was sexually assaulted by an employee of the school he attended. No charges were ever brought and the employee, if in fact guilty of the heinous act, got off scot-free. The person with whom I am so close is still haunted by the lack of the justice he believes his son did not receive, and he continues to harbor thoughts of brutal retaliation against the alleged perpetrator. There were times, I admit, when I shared the same fantasy.
Lest anyone think the Paterno family is glossing over Sandusky's alleged abuse toward underage boys - most if not all came into contact with Sandusky through his foundation, the Second Mile, meant to help such children - that most assuredly is not the case.
"If someone touched my child, there wouldn't be a trial, I would have killed them," Sue Paterno, Joe's wife of nearly 50 years and the cookie-baking grandma to the couple's 17 grandchildren, is quoted as saying in Jenkins' article.
But Sue Paterno is as powerless to take out her frustrations on Sandusky as she is to preserve the legacy of her husband, whose separation from the university he had served so faithfully for 62 years, and 46 as head coach, came in the form of 10 words in a Nov. 9 telephone conversation with John Surma, vice chairman of Penn State's Board of Trustees.
"In the best interests of the university, you are terminated," Surma told Paterno, who was in his night clothes and preparing for bed, when the guillotine came crashing down.
In short order, the legend of "Saint Joe" Paterno was deconstructed swiftly. The Maxwell Football Club of Philadelphia has discontinued its Joseph V. Paterno Award, which was given to coaches who made an impact; the Big Ten Conference removed his name from its championship trophy, an honor he was to have shared with the late Amos Alonzo Stagg; and Pennsylvania's U.S. Senators, Pat Toomey and Bob Casey Jr., withdrew their endorsement of Paterno for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Brown University, Paterno's alma mater, is considering renaming its Joe Paterno '50 Award, which is presented annually to an outstanding first-year varsity male athlete and is not restricted to football players.
You'd almost think that it was Paterno himself whom assistant coach Mike McQueary spotted in the Lasch Football Building showers with the 10-year-old victim of the 2002 incident upon which so much of the scandal is focused.
In his interview with Jenkins, Paterno - now wearing a wig to cover a hairless head made so by chemo treatments - said he thought he was doing the right thing by bringing the matter to the attention of athletic director Tim Curley and senior vice president Gary Schultz, both of whom are now charged with perjury for allegedly lying to a grand jury. Could Paterno have done more? Probably. Should he have done more? With the benefit of hindsight, yes. Definitely yes.
But there are decisions I now wish I would have made and didn't, and I bet there are many readers of this column who can say the same thing about events in which decisions made led to unfavorable conclusions.
My opinion is that Sandusky's arrest presented certain members of the Board of Trustees with an opportunity to finally rid themselves of Paterno, who had become too old, too entrenched and too intractable in the way he did things to fit their vision of the future. He was the last dinosaur, a relic of a fading era who had to sacrificed on the altar of expediency.
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