Penn State’s Joe Paterno Shouldn’t Have Coached a Game This Season

<a href="">quiksilver9673</a>/Flickr

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.


The more we thought about how MoJo's journalism can have the most impact heading into the 2020 election, the more we realized that so many of today's stories come down to corruption: democracy and the rule of law being undermined by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain.

So we're launching a new Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption. We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We'll publish what we find as a major series in the summer of 2020, including a special issue of our magazine, a dedicated online portal, and video and podcast series so it doesn't get lost in the daily deluge of breaking news.

It's unlike anything we've done before and we've got seed funding to get started, but we're asking readers to help crowdfund this new beat with an additional $500,000 so we can go even bigger. You can read why we're taking this approach and what we want to accomplish in "Corruption Isn't Just Another Scandal. It's the Rot Beneath All of Them," and if you like how it sounds, please help fund it with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.