Penn State students’ anger misguided

  All is not well in Happy Valley. Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant coach of the Penn State football team was indicted on charges of molesting 8 boys, and recently there have been revelations that university officials knew of the abuse and did not alert police. The scandal prompted a slew of firings, including the dismissal of head football coach Joe Paterno. Yet what unfolded on campus after not was not an outpouring of grief for the victims of the alleged abuse and anger at the inaction of university officials, but an outpouring of grief over the end of Paterno’s reign, and anger at university trustees for removing him. After the announcement that “JoePa” as the brevity-inclined Penn State faithful called him, had been sacked, thousands of students took to the university green. It is understandable that the abrupt removal of Paterno after more than a half-century on the Nittany Lions’ coaching staff, would be unsettling to the thousands of diehard fans in Happy Valley. But to dismiss the failure of Paterno to do all he could to let authorities know of the abuse that was going on is to dismiss the suffering of the children victimized by Sandusky. If I were a Penn State student I would be embarrassed that my classmates would go so far as to defend a university official for failing to adequately report a string of sexual abuse. I commend the university’s Board of Trustees for swiftly dismissing the president and Paterno — how could such an institution function when its top officials were complicit in covering up sexual misconduct perpetrated against children? Joe Paterno does not deserve all of the blame in this scandal, but he must be held accountable for his actions, or rather, inaction. The affadavit filed in federal court alleges that in 2002 Paterno was alerted by a graduate assistant of an incident of abuse after the assistant observed Sandusky having sex with a boy in the showers of the Penn State athletic complex. The document stated that Paterno relayed the information to his superiors, including the athletic director. But after university officials did nothing, Paterno did not contact police. As the news of Paterno’s firing spread, a friend of mine lamented in a Facebook status, “I kind of feel bad for Paterno… his whole career is ruined because of one horrible decision.” Paterno’s punishment didn’t and shouldn’t have had anything to do with his success on the field. Sure, there wouldn’t be such an uproar if he wasn’t the winningest coach in NCAA history, but winning football games does not relieve you of your moral obligations as a human being. Maybe I just don’t understand the sports culture that exists at many of the country’s large universities. Joe Paterno had already been canonized in State College — a bronze statue of the coach stands outside the football stadium. Though the university’s top official was also axed, it was Paterno who made headlines. This culture doesn’t exist at UVM, and thankfully so. Perhaps our teams’ lack of continued success or national prominence contributes to this lack of a cult following of players or coaches, but I do not believe students would jump to the defense of a university official accused of similar misconduct. They certainly wouldn’t take to the streets and vandalize storefronts, which is what happened in State College Nov. 9. This incident has nothing to do with football. It has everything to do with the failure of coaches and university leaders, within whom so much trust is placed, failing to take actions to end the abuse of children and prevent others from being abused. And for that, Paterno and the others dismissed deserved to be shown the door. Only now can the Penn State community start to move on from this horrific incident.