The Penn State Show Must Go On

 Paterno

Penn State’s effort to address the recent incredibly sordid sexual abuse scandal involving the school’s football team has been controversial. But it’s probably controversial for the wrong reasons.

As of this morning former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky is charged with 40 counts of sex crimes against young boys He’s also banned from campus. Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley and Senior Vice President of Finance and Business Gary Schultz were charged with “failing to report the suspected crimes and lying to a grand jury.” They have resigned. Penn State President Graham Spanier will either resign or be fired today. Legendary Penn State Football Coach Joe Paterno, however, will coach the rest of this season.

That’s really terrible, says longtime sports journalist Allen Barra. Barra writes in The Atlantic that:

Last night hundreds of deliriously misguided Penn State students met in front of Paterno’s house and cheered the coach on. In any other season but this one, their actions would have seemed appropriate. In this season, in light of the fact that Paterno’s former assistant coach and good friend Jerry Sandusky has been accused of raping at least nine young boys and that Paterno and university officials allegedly had knowledge of it and did nothing, makes the students seem deluded to the point of idiocy. I use idiocy in the sense that the Greeks intended it, as a moral failure.

Paterno knows better and should take responsibility for his actions. As Barra says:

If Paterno had any measure of his wits about him, or any concern for his legacy to his family and university, he would have admitted that he made a terrible mistake when he did not personally follow-up on the Sandusky allegations and resign. Since he has not done so, Spanier should have announced days ago that Paterno’s contract was being terminated. Spanier does not seem to have an inkling that he will be going down with Paterno and every other administrator who had knowledge of this hideous affair and did not act.

Perhaps. Paterno clearly knew something was wrong here. The grand jury revelations happened some 10 months ago. But what’s the real problem? Does Paterno staying on make the world feel any worse about Penn State? Does it make it seem that he, or his university, condone the rape of children?

Well, no, of course not. But the reason Paterno is being kept on is not even because Penn State has some longstanding affection for him (human resources logic dictates that if his superiors have to quit their jobs, and his staff have to quit their jobs, over the same incident, he is also responsible). No, he’s being kept on because if he leaves now it will be really bad for the football team.

If this were a high school, or a lesser-known college, the school’s football season would end, right now. The school would not play Nebraska this weekend or any other school until next season. Penn State would make the rational decision to suspend the season to preserve the integrity of the institution. People don’t get to play (or coach) games when they’re accused of aiding and abetting vile and heinous crimes.

But football is just more important here. That’s because at Penn State the integrity of the institution and the integrity of the football team are essentially the same. That’s what’s truly perverse about the school’s reaction to this incident. Keeping Paterno on is just a symptom of that problem. [Image via]

Update: Slightly before 10 p.m. this evening Penn State fired Paterno.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer