Commentary

Paterno failed when needed most

Updated: July 16, 2012, 1:13 PM ET
By Dick Vitale | ESPN.com

Like many around the world of sports, I was blown away by the revelations in the Freeh report on Penn State.

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh's independent report on the handling of the Jerry Sandusky matter at State College was thorough, as Freeh and his investigators spoke to numerous people involved in the tragic situation.

We all know what kind of monster Sandusky is following the guilty rulings rendered in court. We know how he belongs in prison forever after a jury of his peers came back with those guilty verdicts.

There were so many youngsters hurt during Sandusky's tenure at Penn State. Some of them could have been spared the nightmare of dealing with Sandusky had somebody spoken up and done the right thing more than a decade ago.

It is so sad when you consider that Joe Paterno, a man I looked at with such respect and admiration during his six decades at Penn State, could have made a difference. At first, I, along with many others, took the approach that the coach could not have known about all of the wrongdoing.

My friends, I was wrong.

This report proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Joe Paterno and all the leaders at Penn State covered this mess up big time. Graham Spanier, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz deserve as much of the blame. For the school's administrators to protect the image of the university and its football program at the expense of so many young people is deplorable and inexcusable.

[+] EnlargeJoe Paterno Statue
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarJoe Paterno's legacy may have taken a hit but his iconic statue on Penn State's campus will remain for now, according to sources.

Paterno wanted to be remembered for honor and integrity. The statue in front of Penn State seemed like a proper way to honor that legacy. Many people are asking for that statue of Paterno to come down, including my friend and respected columnist from the New York Daily News, Dick Weiss. Former Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden has also come out and said the statue should come down.

I have heard some call for the suspension of Penn State football for one season as a punishment. I have a simple question: is it right to punish the young men associated with the program today for wrongdoing by Sandusky years ago? Those players and new coach Bill O'Brien's staff had nothing to do with this.

I am not sure what the proper punishment should be. I am sure there will be plenty of lawsuits, and Penn State will pay a hefty price financially.

Most of all, I feel for those innocent victims that were hurt. A lot of the damage would not have been done if somebody stood tall and acted like a true hero. That would have helped the image of the school and the football program, not covering it up and hoping that it would never surface.

Paterno could have been a real hero if he stepped forward like the man he was supposed to be: a leader, a winner on and off the field. He could have been a real legend. He could have solved the nightmare. Instead, it has been humiliating to so many people.

It is a sad, sad story.

Dick Vitale

College Basketball analyst
Dick Vitale, college basketball's top analyst and ambassador, joined ESPN during the 1979-80 season. His thorough knowledge of the game is brought forth in an enthusiastic, passionate style. Vitale also contributes columns to ESPN.com.