Penn State still doesn’t get it.
This Saturday, during a football game against Temple, the university will honor the late Joe Paterno, commemorating the 50th anniversary of his first game (and victory) as head coach of the Nittany Lions.
Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour says this will be a celebration of how Paterno and his wife, Sue, “helped countless students become leaders and earn a Penn State diploma.”
Many former players will be on hand, including Tom Donchez, who played for Paterno in the 1970s.
“We know who he was,” Donchez told USA Today. “We understand how principled he was. He was fearless in the pursuit of fairness.”
Of course, this will be the first time the university will publicly honor the late coach since 2011, when long-time PSU assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested and charged with 52 counts of sexual abuse of young boys from 1994 to 2009. (In 2012, Sandusky was convicted on 45 counts and is currently in prison.)
And while many within the Penn State community like to act as if Sandusky alone is responsible for the destruction of Paterno’s legacy, the truth is, a mountain of evidence says that Joe Paterno knew about this abuse for decades and did nothing to stop it.
In other words, as he was lifting some students to greatness, Paterno was allegedly enabling the assault of countless others.
That’s not just speculation, either. Four years ago, former FBI directer Louis Freeh found that Paterno — who was fired from PSU amid the scandal in 2011 and passed away due to complications from lung cancer in early 2012 —had likely known about Sandusky’s serial pedophilia and ignored it. Freeh’s investigation concluded that Paterno used his power and influence to stop the university from reporting the abuse to authorities in 2001.
Recently, depositions from an insurance case for Penn State have been unsealed, and the news has not been good for Paterno truthers.
According to ESPN, John Doe 150 said in a 2014 deposition that “he informed Paterno the day after a 1976 incident that Sandusky stuck his finger in the then-14-year-old boy’s rectum while he showered.”
He said he told several adults about it, then sought out Paterno.
“Is it accurate that Coach Paterno quickly said to you, ‘I don’t want to hear about any of that kind of stuff, I have a football season to worry about?’” a lawyer for Penn State’s insurance carrier asked the man. “Specifically, yes,” the man replied.
“I was shocked, disappointed, offended, I was insulted,” John Doe 150 testified. “I said, is that all you’re going to do? You’re not going to do anything else?”
He said Paterno then “just walked away.”
Yes, that’s right. One of Sandusky’s alleged victims says that Paterno knew about the abuse 40 years ago, and did nothing about it, because he had a football game to worry about.
That didn’t just send a message to the child that nobody cared about his abuse; it set a tone for way Penn State would deal with accusations against Sandusky for years and years.
And if you’re not one to believe second-hand reports, Paterno himself even said he had an idea Sandusky might be abusing children in 2001, a full decade before the former defensive coordinator was charged.
Paterno told a reporter before he died in early 2012 — just months after Sandusky’s arrest — that the first inkling he had that Sandusky might be abusing children occurred in 2001, though there are records that show high-ranking Penn State officials dealt with a complaint in 1998 by a mother that Sandusky had showered with her son.
Throughout that decade after Paterno’s admitted “inkling,” Sandusky continued to maintain an office in the PSU athletic department where he ran his Second Mile Foundation, the nonprofit for at-risk youth he founded in 1977 — a year after Paterno was reportedly told about Sandusky’s abuse.
Many current Penn State students are, understandably, not pleased with the school’s decision to honor Paterno on Saturday. Andrew Limauro, a sophomore, has started a petition to stop the commemoration, calling it an attempt to appease donors and former football players.
The PSU student newspaper, Daily Collegian, published an editorial about the decision titled, “Remaining rutted in the past does nothing for the future.”
But, those who are nostalgic for the past are outweighing those who are focused on the future. Many seem unable to let go of the image of Paterno they grew up with.
Take, for instance, these tweets from Steve Manuel, who teaches public relations and crisis communications at Penn State:
Seems to be a lot of concern over Paterno commemoration. Those who believe Joe did something wrong will always believe that. Forget them.
— Steve Manuel (@majorM1996) September 16, 2016
Paterno arguably did more for Penn State than any other coach at any other school in history. Yet he is vilified by some, who know nothing.
— Steve Manuel (@majorM1996) September 16, 2016
“We’re not getting together in anger. We’re getting together in love and celebration,” Donchez said. “Joe’s reputation around the country has taken a hit, but among his player it hasn’t.”
Maybe it should have.
Because it seems Paterno could have used the influence football greatness afforded him to save dozens of children from being abused. Instead, he focused on winning. For many, that’s still enough.
“Whatever they do for Joe Paterno will be the loudest ovation in Beaver Stadium on Saturday, that’s a given,” Cory Giger told Bob Ley on Outside the Lines.