In one line, one sentence devoid of any real emotion or context, Joe Paterno essentially wrote his own coaching obituary.
"As coach Sandusky was already retired from our coaching staff at that time, I referred the matter to university administrators."
That wasn't the end of the statement, but if it was the extent of Paterno's involvement in what could turn out to be the worst scandal in the history of major college athletics, it should be the end of his career.
|Photo by: Doug Pensinger|
He can't correct the mistakes he made in March of 2002, but he can acknowledge them and atone for them in only one way -- by announcing his resignation, effective immediately. He can stand for something in the end by admitting that he didn't stand up or speak up strongly enough almost a decade ago.
Jerry Sandusky may have been retired as a Penn State assistant coach at the time referenced in Paterno's statement, but if the findings of fact by a Pennsylvania Grand Jury are correct, he wasn't retired from another pursuit; child abuser and sexual predator.
The grand jury's findings list eight boys that Sandusky allegedly victimized, in forty separate incidents, over a fifteen-year period from 1994-2009, both before and after his coaching days. One of those instances did not go unnoticed, but it did go unreported, at least to police.
And that's where Paterno betrayed a life spent teaching boys how to be men.
According to the grand jury, on Friday, March 1st, 2002, at around 9:30 in the evening, 28-year-old Penn State grad assistant Mike McQueary walked into the locker room at the program's football building to put some new sneakers in his locker and grab some recruiting tapes to watch. The lights and showers were on, and he heard sounds of a sexual nature. McQueary saw Sandusky and a boy who looked to be about 10-years-old engaged in sex. Shaken by what he'd stumbled upon, McQueary went to his office, called his father and left the building.
The following morning, he visited Joe Paterno at his home and "reported what he had seen," according to the grand jury.
However, Paterno's statement differs.
"It was obvious that the witness was distraught over what he saw, but he at no time explained to me the very specific actions contained in the grand jury report," according to the statement. "Regardless, it was clear that the witness saw something inappropriate involving Mr. Sandusky."
Either way, the news should have shaken Paterno. Just imagine hearing an eyewitness account of something like that about someone you'd worked with for three decades.
Paterno took it seriously enough that he called athletic director Tim Curley to his home the next day, a Sunday no less, to share the information. And then?
Unless Paterno left some important details of his own behavior out of his statement, he did nothing. He didn't call the police, or make sure that Curley did.
That's according to Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan. At a Monday press conference, Noonan called this "a case about children who have had their innocence stolen from them, in a culture that did nothing to stop it or prevent it from happening to others."
Paterno was more than just part of the culture. He was the very center of it. He was the football coach revered because he seemed to grasp that there are more important things than winning football games. Yet, when he was given first-hand information by one of his coaches that one of his former colleagues may have committed a crime, against a child no less, in his building, what did he do?
He passed the buck to his athletic director.
While that may not be crime, at least legally, what about Paterno's moral obligation? What about the failure of the coach, the grad assistant, and everyone else who was aware of some sort of improper behavior by Sandusky in 2002, up to and including university president Graham Spanier, to alert the police, confront the accused and seek out the victim to check on his welfare?
"I understand that people are very upset and angry," Paterno's statement said, "but let's be fair and let the legal process unfold."
The time for Paterno to help set the legal process in motion was way back in March of 2002. The time for him to make up for lost time is now.
Forget his 409 wins, and forget his legacy. At a moment of crisis, he forgot about an innocent child. He wasn't the only one, but he was the only one with a statue outside the football stadium.
For that, he cannot be forgiven.