A Letter to Joe Paterno: When Heroes Fail

PJ Sapienza@@pjsapiContributor IIIJuly 23, 2012

STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 3:  Penn State head coach Joe Paterno addresses the media after the game against the Indiana State Sycamores on September 3, 2011 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Mr. Paterno,

When the Freeh report came out, what has been suspected for months now was verified. Sadly, this report may not be the end of this horrific event.

While I cannot say that I was a Penn State fan, I did find myself rooting for them, and that was because of you. You were one of the few coaches who I thought “did it the right way.” There always seemed to be a higher standard with you. That façade has come crashing down in ruins.

Make no mistake, the true bad guy in this deal is Jerry Sandusky. There is no hell hot enough for someone who has been convicted of the crimes he has done. You were also not alone in the guilt that the report doled out. The actions of Gary Schultz, Tim Curley and Graham Spanier are equally reprehensible. The difference, though, is that you were the hero.

You died before this came out, and it seems unfair that you have not had to face the flood of criticism. You did not have to hear the testimony of the victims. You are to blame for ruining the program you created, yet you will never face the music.

What is sad is that even as this scandal was starting to come out into the open, you were still scamming behind the scenes.

Like a rat leaving a ship, you were trying to sweeten your retirement deal as you feared the end was coming. You still did not stand up for the morals you had spent years preaching to players, students and fans. Instead, you tried to cover your own butt.

This all came down to the program. You put football in front of the safety of children.

The ironic part is that if you would have come forward and turned Sandusky in when it was brought to your attention, you would have been a hero. You would have been looked at as the guy who saved all of those kids. Sandusky would have been hauled off, and the program would have continued on.

Instead, you decided that it was better to let a monster roam free than to cast any negative light on your football team.

Even as your life approached its end, you could not come clean. Recently, a letter you allegedly wrote in your finals weeks shows that you still were defending the program. You made sure to point out that this was not a “football scandal.” You did not take time to express any remorse to the victims, no words against Sandusky—nothing. Once again, you put the program above all.

This became a football issue when the crimes of Sandusky were hidden in order to not bring shame to the football program. You put the safety and well-being of children behind a game. Yes, I said it—football is a game.

You loved it, I love it, millions around the country are glued to every move of their team, but in the end, it is a game. You decided the protection of the Penn State mystique and aura was more important than the innocence of multiple children. Your actions allowed a predator of the worst kind to continue to prowl and victimize more children.

You would be so proud, though. The university is still protecting the program. As the report became public and Penn State officials were forced to make statements, few really went far enough in the remorse, in their shock or embarrassment.

They even allowed your stature to stand far longer than it should have. Even when it finally was taken down, it is simply in storage and not destroyed. It really is amazing that it stood for so long after the report came out.

You would think, in light of NCAA president Mark Emmert's comments, that they would have quickly destroyed it. Emmert was thinking about major penalties against Penn State and at that point had not taken the death penalty off the table.

Just for a public relations move and to maybe gain favor with the NCAA, you would think that the university would take down the statue, but sadly we have already learned how misguided the thought process is there.

Even more surprising is that the students did not rise up and tear it down. After all, they are now marred by this as well.

In this difficult job market, what do you think happens when it reads Penn State Alumni on a resume? Even worse, the students who will graduate over the next couple of years will be hampered even more.

It is naïve to think that a hiring manager will not question how someone could go to the school after this has come out. While it may not be fair and it may not be right, it will happen. It will not matter how highly regarded the academics are, because the first thing people will think of is this scandal. You could have stopped this.

Perhaps the scariest part is that we still do not know everything. Did you know even longer then we are aware of now?

Just in the past few days, even older accusations against Sandusky have been made. That leaves over roughly a two-decade gap between known incidents. It is difficult to believe that nothing occurred over that time, and now it is hard not to think that you may have known.

When this scandal first came out, other grotesque rumors and allegations came out. There is also the case of the prosecutor who was investigating Sandusky but ended up missing. Seeing that this disgusting coverup occurred, it is hard not to wonder how far it may have gone.

It is rare when the person who builds such a masterpiece is the same one who ultimately destroys it. Now, the legacy you spent so much time to build, the legacy you traded children's innocence to grow, the legacy that meant everything to you, is not what you envisioned.

The NCAA stepped in and levied a $60 million fine against the school. There will be a postseason ban and lost scholarships, and the school has to vacate more than 100 wins.

While I generally think that vacating wins is a hollow penalty, in this case it has some meaning. You no longer are the winningest coach, which is a record you tried to protect with this scandal.

Your family is still trying to protect you but is only making things worse. This was more than a simple mistake. We have seen coaches get into trouble before, but this is far beyond a DUI, affair, improper benefits or even hitting a player.

You allowed Sandusky to continue his rampage of terror against children. That can never be forgiven.

No longer is the legacy about JoPa, the beloved coach and upstanding man who did it the right way. No, now it is Paterno the man who could not, would not bother to stop a predator from attacking children.

You are now the man who put a game, pride and ego ahead of innocence. Your legacy is of shame and hypocrisy. It is a shame that you are not here to live through the torment you helped create.