Joe Paterno has taken a lot of heat lately.
He doesn’t care, because he’s dead, but now that Jerry Sandusky has been convicted and will probably be spending the rest of his days in a concrete prison cell, the wrath of the critics of Penn State has now fallen on a man who doesn’t have the ability to respond.
The school’s board of trustees found, in its own investigation, that Paterno, athletic director Tim Curley and former PSU vice president Gary Schultz squashed sexual abuse allegations against Sandusky. Curley and Schultz are both going to trial for failing to report child abuse and Paterno would probably be on the docket if he hadn’t passed away in January.
His error was an egregious one, without a doubt, and if he was still alive he would deserve to answer for his actions. But that does not mean that he bears more responsibility for not stopping Sandusky’s actions than anyone else that knew, or had suspicions, simply because he was one of the most visible coaches in college football.
It’s hard to imagine someone like Paterno, who was always painted as a decent man and a great football coach, covering up for someone accused of one of the most egregious and deviant crimes a person can commit. But I’ve learned to never be surprised at the depths a person can stoop to if their reputation, or more importantly, their livelihood, is threatened.
The ugliness of the entire situation is only amplified by the efforts of multiple businesses once associated with Penn State and as-yet unnamed individuals to destroy Paterno’s legacy.
Sandusky’s actions, and the cover-up by school officials which followed, shed light on a problem much larger than a head coach who didn’t have the presence of mind to do the right thing when his name was called.
There has been talk of removing Paterno’s statue in front of Beaver Stadium — a temporary and ineffective solution or outlet for the rage many people might be feeling at this point. If anything is going to be torn down it should be Beaver Stadium, Old Main and the entire city of State College.
That would be a better answer than taking aim at a safe and defenseless target.
Michael Gebelein is sports editor of the Lincoln Times-News.