In a morning statement, words typed on a computer, Paterno said he was resigning at the end of the season. It was his final attempt at control. He said he wanted to honor his commitments to his players and his staff, and that he wanted to make things as easy as possible for the Board of Trustees.
This was untrue. This was not about any of that. The university’s inability to protect children from an alleged sexual predator within their midst – from the president of the school to his lieutenants in the administration; from the janitors who mopped the floors to the iconic football coach who built the empire – has brought us to this day. Paterno’s legacy is ruined.
And he was playing for the history books, playing for time. That is what this was about, and that is why it was so important that the Board of Trustees not allow it to happen.
There is nothing they can do about the past. But if they are to own the future – a future in which this inexplicable, misguided protection of an almighty football kingdom can never again be allowed to develop – this is exactly what Penn State needed to do.
Amen and amen. The reason all this happened was Joe Paterno and the cult of Penn State football that he built. He wasn’t the only one, of course, but at least the Trustees understood that it was undue respect for Paterno and what he represented that has brought such shame onto the university and God knows what kind of suffering into the lives of abused children and their families. As painful as this no doubt is to Penn State alumni and others, there was no other morally responsible choice. How sadly unusual in this day and age that we are surprised when authorities act in a way that suggests they care more about their moral and institutional responsibility than about ass-covering and excuse-making.
It may well be the case that the Trustees acted out of fear of the federal investigation than a sense of righteousness. The point is, they acted, and they did the right thing. They didn’t lawyer up, they didn’t engage in public bloviating and statements of false compassion, they didn’t invent complex rationalizations for why they couldn’t do what any decent men would do when confronted by such a shocking moral failure, indeed crimes. And because they did what they did, swiftly and without apology, they stand a much better chance of rebuilding the university’s reputation.
Again, it’s a shock to see something like this. I wish we saw it more often.
UPDATE: Thomas Boswell in the Washington Post, with a cautionary note for me and thee:
Something shameful, if everything falls just wrong, could happen to any of us. How do we know? Because it even happened to Joe Paterno.