Joe Paterno got fired last night (Nov. 9) by the Penn State board of trustees. According to a recent grand jury report, in 2002 the legendary college football coach had been notified of sexual activity in a Penn State locker room between former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and a boy estimated to be 10 years old, and Paterno in turn notified Penn State’s athletic director, but not the police. Sandusky would not be arrested on multiple sexual abuse charges until Nov. 5, 2011.
There was no way Penn State could have allowed Paterno to step onto the field this Saturday as coach of the football team. To do so would have sent a message that Penn State was merely taking the next step in a pattern of inaction and delay, and that football continues to be more important than the victimization and abuse of children.
So this was not a brave decision by the board of trustees—it was the only option.
Actually, there was one other option—convincing Paterno to quit. Did the board of trustees try to get him to step aside and make a statement that his thoughts are with Sandusky’s victims and not with his players and therefore he is not able to continue as coach? Perhaps.
Whether or not the trustees made such an appeal, if Paterno had taken it upon himself to make such a statement the clear message sent would have been that what matters most right now is the victims and correcting the institutional lapses that allowed Sandusky to prey on the innocent. The students of Penn State would have understood.