Commentary

Don't sympathize for disgraced Paterno

After turning a blind eye to the alleged victims, the face of Penn St. deserves the shame

Updated: November 10, 2011, 11:05 AM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

Joe Paterno had it coming to him. He needed to be humiliated in the end, fired on the same day he announced his retirement, all but excommunicated by the very institution he had elevated into a sanctuary from all those vile major college ills.

Don't cry for Joe, because Joe didn't cry for the alleged victims of Jerry Sandusky, the lost boys of Penn State, until it was at least nine years too late. The greatest of coaches, Paterno made possible the greatest scandal in the history of college sports.

He won't be returning to the Rose Bowl, but Paterno is going out with the granddaddy of them all regardless. No case of point-shaving, drugs, pay-for-play schemes, death-penalty NCAA violations, even the nightmarish story at Baylor -- nothing approaches the gross negligence at Penn State that allowed an accused sexual predator to continue to allegedly prey on children while the band played on.

And all of this for what? Protecting the university's standing as a moral compass? Protecting the Nittany Lions' money machine? Protecting Paterno's legacy as an educator and molder of fine young men?

How are all those things looking right about now?

Forget the record 409 victories, and the many contributions to charitable and academic causes. Even at 84, even after living an iconic American life, Paterno deserved to be terminated in a phone call with the same trustees he'd so arrogantly advised to leave him be and let him retire in peace. "The past several days have been absolutely terrible for the entire Penn State community," board vice chair John Surma said at the news conference to announce the removal of Paterno and university president Graham Spanier.

"But the outrage that we feel is nothing compared to the physical and psychological suffering that allegedly took place."

Paterno has admitted he should have done more to stop that physical and psychological suffering outlined in brutal detail in the grand jury's report. It wasn't much of a concession, given that in 2002, he received an eyewitness account of a naked Sandusky in the showers with a naked boy -- the witness, Mike McQueary, later would testify the former defensive coordinator was forcing anal intercourse on the child -- and yet Paterno chose to do next to nothing about it.

This is a tragedy out of even Shakespeare's ballpark. But the tragedy doesn't revolve around Paterno's legacy, which now looks like something you'd find pancaked underneath a fourth-and-1 cloud of Big Ten dust.

The kids are the tragedy. The boys who lost their childhood on Penn State property. The alleged victims who will have to deal with the trauma for the rest of their haunted lives.

If Paterno and university administrators cared even a little about these kids, they did a hell of a job disguising it. So Spanier, the CEO, had to go.

[+] EnlargeJoe Paterno
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarJoe Paterno, with wife Sue, thanked supporters outside their home Wednesday night.

But that wasn't enough, not even close. If Spanier was the official leader of Penn State, Joe Paterno was Penn State. Not just Sandusky's longtime boss and not just the forever football coach and not just the John Wooden of his sport.

Paterno was the reason State College was on anyone's map and that the university was a globally recognized brand. To let the grand old man coach against Nebraska and finish out the season with a warped victory tour would have been tantamount to telling the world that Penn State still needed to do what Penn State had to do, the alleged victims be damned.

In the end, the trustees realized they had to sack Paterno and put up with the misguided students causing havoc in the streets. When Surma was done with the sidebar duties of kissing Spanier goodbye, he said, "In addition, Joe Paterno is no longer the head football coach effective immediately."

This one had to hurt. Paterno had released a statement earlier in the day announcing his retirement, effective at the end of the season, acknowledging that the sexual abuse case amounted to "one of the great sorrows of my life." But while expressing his concern for the alleged victims and his regret for not aiding them, Paterno offered a hint of why and how he could possibly take McQueary's 2002 account, pass it on to the athletic director, and then return without a second thought to his X's and O's.

The head coach decreed that the trustees "should not spend a single minute discussing my status." One more time, Paterno was putting a big offensive line in front of his legacy and arrogantly plowing ahead with his career, on his terms, with no regard for Sandusky's alleged victims.

So he deserved to take an embarrassing hit. After all the pain and suffering alleged to have been inflicted on his watch, Paterno couldn't be allowed to represent the university for one more game, one more senior day.

"A phone call put me out of it," he told students and reporters gathered outside his home, "but we'll go from there."

Paterno blew a kiss to the cheering students, waved, and gave a fist pump and a thumbs up. He thanked the students and asked them to pray for the victims.

They'll need it, and then some.

Paterno? No, he isn't the one to feel sorry for, even after decades of dignity and grace. If Paterno thinks getting fired on his retirement day stings, he doesn't know true pain.

He can reread the grand jury report to find out about that. Some of those lost boys of Penn State could have been saved, and Joe Paterno will go to his grave knowing that will forever be college sports' greatest shame.

Ian O'Connor is the author of "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." "Sunday Morning With Ian O'Connor" can be heard every Sunday, 9 to 11 a.m. ET on ESPN New York 1050.

Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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