Penn State did the right thing tonight when it fired its storied football coach Joe Paterno (and its president, Graham Spanier). But it’s pretty little, and it’s way late. Joe Paterno remained Coach Paterno for nearly a decade after learning that his former defensive coordinator had allegedly raped a 10-year-old, and for nearly a year after a grand jury investigation confirmed as much. In fact, he stayed coach just long enough to become the winningest coach in Division I college football history, a record he achieved two weeks ago, 11 months after said grand jury investigation (see page 8 referencing December 2010 interviews). Had his complicit role come to light last December would Paterno have had a shot at his record-breaking victory? If present outrage would have held, and it should have, then no, he wouldn’t have coached at all this season.
The timing is probably not a coincidence, and it’s illustrative. This whole hellstorm was swept under the rug for so long because of the money machine that is college football, a successful program with a superstar coach and a sterling reputation is money in the bank, and when you’re Penn State that’s $50 million a year kind of money.
Now what? Well, students should really stop rioting. (And definitely this.) Starting tomorrow, Penn State will have to figure out who it is after it’s Joe Paterno. And Joe Paterno and Penn State will have to come to grips with their enabling of an alleged child rapist. And hopefully the Penn State community can come to rally behind Sandusky’s victims and would-be victims just as fervently as they do their Nittany Lions any given Saturday. Perhaps some of the hundreds of millions gained over the years by the football juggernaut will go to the victims, and to efforts to stop child sexual abuse. And on the agenda must be a long, hard, cold look at a college-sports industry that begets such devastation.
One note of justice, however token. On Saturday, Coach Paterno would have set yet another record, for most games coached in a career. He would’ve passed Amos Alonzo Stagg but instead the two will remain tied at 548 games.
Game over. And no winners here, not now, not a one.