"Character is who you are when nobody is watching."
Joe Paterno was deified in the college football world because he won football games and appeared to be a man of honesty and integrity.
He built Penn State into a national power, running a squeaky-clean program whose motto, "Success with Honor" is plastered on the walls throughout the football facility. He always said the right things, acted with class, and was admired for genuinely caring about the young players he was coaching. But when the cameras were off and the lights were no longer shining on him, Paterno's true character was revealed.
Instead of doing the right thing and protecting young children from a predator, a man Paterno coached side-by-side with for 30 years, he reportedly looked the other way—possibly because his record, reputation and legacy were far more important to him.
Paterno, his athletic director, and the president of Penn State tried to sweep the despicable acts of Jerry Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator, who was allegedly caught raping a 10-year old child in the shower of the team's facility in 2002, under the rug. Nine years later, the ugly sludge came pouring out into every room of Penn State's house, creating a cess pool as big as the Grand Canyon.
According to the grand jury report on Sandusky, which may just be the most disturbing 23 pages I’ve ever read, Paterno was told by graduate assistant, Mike McQueary, that he witnessed Sandusky performing a sexual act on a boy in the shower. Paterno is said to have reported the incident to his boss, then washed his hands of it. He apparently did nothing more—didn't call the police or child services. It seems the man who supposedly was an educator and possessed a moral compass that pointed north, just went back to coaching football as if nothing ever happened.
Meanwhile, Sandusky, who in 1998 was also involved in an incident with a child which Paterno knew about, was allowed to come and go to the football facility as often as he liked. He had his own office and was working out in the weight room just last week. Sandusky continued to bring young children from his foundation, "The Second Mile," to Penn State football games and practices. Are you kidding me? A known sexual molester is given free reign to bring children on the campus of Penn State?
Sandusky had coached with Paterno for three decades before retiring under suspicious circumstances in 1999. Four coaches had been on Joe Pa's staff for more than 20 years. He demanded loyalty and expected them to look out for one another. Instead of doing that, Paterno and his coaches should've been protecting those children who couldn't protect themselves.
The day before Paterno was fired, he admitted that he should've done more. But the 84-year old Paterno had better things to do. He had to protect his image, record, and legacy. Like so many coaches in college football, it was all about him, the great Joe Paterno.
There is nobody who can defend Paterno, not when it comes to this. He may have followed university protocol in reporting Sandusky's act to his bosses, which he did to protect himself, not the boy, whom he never even sought out to see if he was all right. But his lapse in moral judgment exposed Paterno, costing him his job and legendary coaching status. His 409 wins, the most in history, and national championships mean nothing now. Nothing.
Paterno mastered his Xs and Os a long time ago. He was a brilliant motivator who taught his players there was more to life than just football. But Paterno failed miserably when it mattered most. He could've shielded more children from a known predator, but for some reason, Paterno chose not to. Tragically, their lives are ruined. Sadly, so is his.
After Sandusky was arrested last Saturday, Paterno said "we were all fooled."
No, Joe, you fooled all of us.