That, in a nutshell, is why Paterno matters so much.
Yet in light of this grand jury report, it is impossible not to wonder why he didn’t think about the parents of the boy who was allegedly in the shower with Sandusky that fateful night in 2002. Paterno did the right thing when he called Curley the next day. But did he follow up? Didn’t he wonder why he had never been contacted by the police? Did he think about going directly to Sandusky, who had played and coached under him for 33 years?
It is entirely possible that Paterno has plausible answers for all these questions. It is also possible that Sandusky is not guilty, despite the frightening details in the 23-page grand jury report.
But right now Paterno and his program are facing a scandal that, if at all true, is sickening. Throughout this fall, there have been rumors that Paterno will finally step down when this season is over, shortly after he turns 85 on Dec. 21.
Until this past weekend, the thinking went that Paterno might announce his retirement before his team’s bowl game, so he can be given the sendoff he deserves.
Now, no one knows what will happen next. Curley and Schultz have stepped down from their posts to prepare to defend themselves. Sandusky’s lawyer says he’s not guilty. If what is alleged is true, the real victims are obviously the eight boys mentioned in the indictment and their families, whose lives no doubt were changed forever.
But if it turns out that, after telling Curley, Paterno didn’t try to protect these children with the same fervor with which he has protected the children sent to play football for him the past 46 years, then this will be a genuine college football tragedy.
There is nothing sadder than a fallen hero, especially one as worthy of hero status as Paterno has been. For years now, Penn State’s slogan has been, “Success with Honor.”
For 46 years, Paterno and Penn State lived up to that lofty claim. Now, the honor may be gone. And if it is, the success will be indelibly tainted.
For more from the author, visit his blog at www.feinsteinonthebrink.com