The Sports Daily > Redskins Hog Heaven
Joe Pa And The Curse of Richard Nixon

Joe Paterno

They are burying Joe Pa today. What an exit.

Joe Paterno’s misfortune is that he passed away before the final chapters of his story are written. Paterno is not around to answer the great mystery of the Jerry Sandusky scandal that roils Pennsylvania State University.

That mystery is this, how did an incident described by eyewitness and assistant coach Mike McQueary as the appearance of sex with a child morph to a description of “horsing around?”

Rape requires aggressive intervention. Horsing around demands aggressive supervision. Paterno is the nexus of the question. His full, cross-examined testimony at trial could have informed how to judge Penn State executives Tim Curley and Gary Schultz.

Paterno’s legacy will be forever plagued by the Richard Nixon question: What did he know and when did he know it?

Penn State fired Curley, the athletic director, and Schultz, vice president of business and development, after a Grand Jury indicted the pair for perjury. The grand jury found the pair not credible and uncooperative.

McQueary denies ever describing the 2002 Sandusky incident as anal sex, but saw circumstantial, visual evidence to suggest that very act. (Um, WHAT?) McQueary wasn’t quite sure what he saw and like anyone else (That would be you and me, brother.), he did not immediately call the police. Instead, he turned to the elders around him, his Dad and his coach, for guidance.

Paterno said he did not quite comprehend what McQuery described to him, but informed Curley that McQueary was quite shaken by whatever it was. I suspect Paterno’s age played a role—not his calendar age, but his coming of age. Such matters were always hidden in the 1940s when Paterno reached his manhood and for decades thereafter.

When Paterno said he did not know what to do, I am inclined to believe him.

Penn State President Graham Spanier expressed support for Curley and Schultz immediately after the grand jury indictments. Had he learned nothing from the Catholic Church scandals where the hierarchy appeared clueless—and calloused—about child endangerment?

Molesting little boys was a crime. Covering it up was the scandal that did lasting damage. The Church is a values institution whose cover-up betrayed its teaching about children [Matthew 19:14] and choices [Mark 8:36].

Gordon Gee did the same in the unfolding swag for tats scandal at Ohio State, thereby impugning the sense that OSU could be trusted to investigate itself. Prof. Spanier, meet Prof. Gee.  

We do not know what Sandusky did, only what is alleged. We sense that the University hid something, perhaps for fear of offending Paterno. Penn State’s football revenue exceeds $100 million per year. Joe Paterno was the one man whose word would have made it OK to risk that by a full investigation of whatever occurred in the athletics building. At the critical moment, and counter to everything he stood for, the coach punted the ball.

Penn State’s alumni, especially the football alumni, are irate that the university dumped Paterno so abruptly. They should be cautious. There is only one conclusion when the four top executives of a values institution are swept from office for failing to provide oversight. There’s another shoe to drop. I think that university Trustees know it and, by now, know what it is.

It might be that Paterno is in a better place.