From Saint to Fraud: Joe Paterno's legacy now defined

by: Kirk Minihane on Thu, 11/10/2011 - 10:39am

In the end, all Joe Paterno cared about was Joe Paterno.

Paterno was more interested in protecting his image than he was protecting a 10-year-old rape victim, more concerned with breaking records than he was with stopping a sexual predator. The fear of losing his job and his status as Saint Joe, the one good man in a dirty world (and slipping into irrelevance, every coach's nightmare) so frightened Paterno that he did nothing to put an end to what is, without question, the worst story in the history of American sport. 

Look, Jerry Sandusky is everything we all know he is. According to the grand jury report (which should be read -- in its entirety -- five times a day to Paterno for the rest of his life) Sandusky in May 1998 told the mother of one of the victims that "I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won’t get it from you. I wish I were dead.”

I hope that wish comes true really soon for Jerry, the perfect example for people (raising hand) who believe the death penalty should be the punishment for those found guilty of sexually assaulting children. Sandusky is a monster, plain and simple. 

But -- and this is just the reality of it -- Sandusky was also mentally ill. He wasn't going to stop until he got busted. And his wife (no shot in hell she was in the dark on any of this, another rape enabler) wasn't going to do it and the State College police revealed its true priorities in 1998, deciding that there wasn't sufficient evidence to arrest Sandusky after he admitted to "hugging" a naked 11-year-old boy in a shower. Think that would've happened if the head coach of the football team had a career record of 28-52?

None of these folks were going to slow Jerry Sandusky down. There was only one man in State College, PA that could do that. Sandusky's mentor, the man who first coached him and then was his boss for 34 years, the picture of class and dignity for all of sport to aspire to. 

And let's just take a break from reality, dive into the deep end and pretend that Joe Paterno probably knew nothing about Sandusky's predilection for raping children before Mike McQueary, on March 2, 2002, informed Paterno about the “rhythmic, slapping” sound he heard in the locker room of Lasch Football Building.

That sound, of course, was Sandusky anally raping a child -- estimated to be 10 years old, with his hands up against the wall, naked -- as McQueary saw seconds later in the showers the locker room.  

And now we arrive at the death of Saint Joe. When told by McQueary what happened in the locker room, Paterno doesn't go to the police. He doesn't confront Sandusky. He doesn't find out who this 10-year-old boy is, doesn't do any digging into Sandusky's past. All Paterno does -- and I mean all he does  -- is the barest minimum. He tells athletic director Tim Curley that there was "fondling" of a child by Sandusky, washes his hands of what happened and basically spent the next nine years with his eyes closed, hoping the story would go away.

What courage. What a leader. If Joe Paterno -- without question the most powerful figure in the history of the university -- had gone to the police that day and told them what McQueary had witnessed there is almost no doubt that Sandusky would be nine years into a 100-year prison sentence. 

But Paterno chose the path of least resistance. Why get his hands messy when the truth can be hidden? Why try and save potentially hundreds of children who might be raped by Sandusky (and give some measure of relief to those already assaulted) when there is Michigan and Minnesota to worry about? Joe Paterno was all about being Joe Paterno -- he craved the attention, sure, but more than that he wanted people to believe that he ran a perfect program. And a sex scandal would have been the end of that. 

He wasn't interested in being a whistleblower. All he wanted to be was Saint Joe, protector of legacy and legacy only.

And now that's gone. His legacy won't be the national championships (both won with Sandusky at his side), 409 wins, terrific graduation record or refusal to break NCAA rules. Nope, Joe Paterno is now Bernard Law with a Nike contract. History -- an obsession of Paterno's -- will cast Sandusky as the ultimate villain (correctly so), but Paterno as the man who could have stopped the madness.

Paterno will spend the rest of his life doing two things: Throwing an endless pity party for himself and testifying at civil trials (and you and I both know there is a very good chance we will hear proof that Paterno knew a lot about Sandusky before 2002). Maybe the 409 wins will allow him to sleep at night (well, he probably goes to bed at 4:30, but you get the point), maybe memories of the 1987 Fiesta Bowl win over Miami will let him forget the incredible, unconscionable damage his silence caused.

Caring about Joe Paterno and Joe Paterno only was what led to his success and to his failure. And now the journey from Saint Joe to Complete Fraud is over. Legacy defined.