He’s 84 years old. He’s been the head coach of Penn State football for 46 years. He first stepped on the field as the man in charge when the Vietnam War was raging half a world a way. He played against some of the biggest legends in college football and won two national championships.
He had become college football’s most revered and iconic figure. Even rival fans loved him. He won more football games than any coach in history and his record will likely stand as long as his statue in Happy Valley.
But in the next few days or weeks, Joe Paterno will leave Penn State in disgrace.
The board of trustees has yet to determine the precise timing of Paterno’s exit, but it is clear that the man who has more victories than any other coach at college football’s top level and who made Penn State a prestigious brand will not survive to coach another season. Discussions about how to manage his departure have begun, according to the two people.
Paterno was to have held a news conference Tuesday but the university canceled it less than an hour before it was scheduled to start.
His crime—failing to exercise the moral obligations he had to report Jerry Sandusky’s sexual predation of minor children for a period of more than 10 years, make sure that the victims of his long-time right hand man received the counseling and support of the institution and immediately dismissing the alleged perpetrator.
As many as nine minor boys were alleged to have been victimized by Sandusky. In its broadcasts during the day today, ESPN has reported that the ninth victim has come forward (the grand jury originally indicted Sandusky for molesting eight). More are likely to come.
The toll on the careers of once respected men—Vice President Gary Shultz, Athletic Director Tim Curley, JoePa and likely President Graham Spanier—is staggering. But it shouldn’t overshadow the heartbreaking human toll of this tragedy. Nine and possibly more defenseless children were brutalized by a predator, while all of the men who should have exercised their responsibility to God and the good of mankind kept quiet. They may have done great things for their beloved Penn State University, but in their roles as men of honor and integrity, they failed miserably.
JoePa, the once beloved face of that university, now sees his legacy forever tarnished not for what he did, but for what he failed to do for those who needed him most.