Joe Paterno ignored his moral responsibility

If that grand jury report is to be believed, Jerry Sandusky isn’t anything special, as pedophiles go. He followed the deviants’ playbook: Find a great lure for young boys, focus on those with troubled backgrounds, look for those from single-parent homes if possible. Then, like any predator, take your time, cut the weaker kids from the pack and go to work.

That’s what pedophiles do, whether it’s a scout leader or the guy down the block with the great video game collection who targets latchkey kids. The only thing that made Sandusky special was the failure, perhaps willful, of those around him to see him for what he was. He played and coached right here at Penn State! He was Joe Paterno’s right-hand man! He founded a terrific charity, Second Mile, for underprivileged kids! How could he possible have done these things?

If that grand jury report is to be believed, the answers are because he had the lure of the Nittany Lions behind him, because he had a charity that brought before him candidates for his abuse, and because he would be the last person anyone would suspect. His alleged plan was brilliant and disgusting, all at once.

(And if these allegations are true, don’t think there wasn’t a plan, right down to the showers when the campus buildings were supposed to be empty, and the basement bedroom at his house.)

After reading the grand jury report, what I can’t get out of my head is, well, all of it. But particularly disturbing is the account of that poor child in the football facility showers in 2002. According to the testimony from the graduate assistant who caught them, Sandusky and the boy saw him. If true, the boy must have been thinking, “Finally, maybe this will stop. Maybe someone will help me.”

But no one did. According to the report, the grad assistant went home and told his dad. The next day he told Paterno. The day after that — 48 hours after the boy allegedly was sexually assaulted in the showers in a place called Happy Valley — Paterno told Athletic Director Tim Curley that Sandusky was “fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy,” the grand jury found.

Legally, Paterno appears to be in the clear if nothing further comes out of the investigation. He was legally required to report the incident to his superior, and he did. However, is it possible Paterno did not know about the 1998 investigation into similar allegations against Sandusky? If he did know, wouldn’t that, along with this incident, have led him to question his ties to this man?

Penn State took away Sandusky’s keys to the building after the 2002 incident, but he still was allowed on campus.

Penn State’s administrators will take the fall for this, as they should, because they knew about both the 1998 investigation and the 2002 incident and yet failed to report the 2002 incident to police, where it should have gone in the first place.

Paterno probably will walk away without a legal scratch, although the New York Times reported Tuesday that the school is making plans for his exit as football coach. It’s time for him to go. It’s clear from this incident that he’s out of his depth. When he says, “If this is true, we were all fooled,” he shows a clear lack of understanding of what happened, and what role his university played.

We weren’t all fooled. A small handful of people at Penn State knew enough to sound an alarm and chose not to do so. If the grand jury report is true, those people weren’t fooled; they were criminally negligent in not reporting it to the authorities and severing ties completely with Sandusky.

A smaller handful of people allegedly knew and apparently just couldn’t believe it. And that group included Paterno. Because he should have been vigilant in pursuing the allegation nine years ago. The alleged sexual assault of a child in a football facility shower should have trumped everything else on his plate.

He may not be legally responsible, but for every day he didn’t pick up a telephone and ask what was happening with these allegations, he’s morally responsible. He’s going to have to live with that knowledge, but he’ll be able to do that in cushy, state-funded retirement. The alleged victims in this case — including the poor, scared boy in the shower — won’t have that luxury.

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