Beyond Ugly: The Penn State Football Scandal and the Fall of Joe Paterno

Matt RyanCorrespondent IINovember 9, 2011

STATE COLLEGE, PA - NOVEMBER 09:  Penn State University head football coach Joe Paterno watches his team during practice on November 9, 2011 in State College, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

The sports world will say goodbye to three coaching legends in 2011, and their respective exits can be referred to as the good, the bad and beyond ugly.

A coaching legend could not have ended their career in a better way than Tony LaRussa. He called it quits after a 33-year managerial career after leading the underdog St. Louis Cardinals to a Game 7 triumph in the World Series.

Phil Jackson's coaching tenure ended sooner than most people expected this year after the Los Angeles Lakers were swept in the second round of the NBA playoffs by the eventual-champion Dallas Mavericks. However, that early playoff exit will have a minimal effect on the legacy of a coach with 11 championship rings.

The manner that Joe Paterno is stepping down as the Nittany Lions football coach is a sad and unexpected way for him to leave the game. His exit from Happy Valley has nothing to do with the game on the field.

Penn State was in the middle of an 8-1 season and in the hunt for the Big Ten Championship before the Jerry Sandusky scandal became a national news story.

For years Paterno was one of the most respected coaches in America. He holds the record for most wins for a Division I football coach (409), has had five unbeaten seasons during his tenure, two national title rings and was named "Sportsman of the Year" by Sports Illustrated in 1986.

His once golden legacy has now been dramatically altered because of the alleged criminal actions of his longtime assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who was a Nittany Lions defensive coordinator from 1977-1999.

Like Paterno, he was well respected. Former Philadelphia Eagles Dick Vermeil once said Sandusky "could very well be the Will Rogers of the coaching profession."

He is now being charged with 40 counts of child molestation, but the scandal goes beyond the alleged actions of the Nittany Lion's long-time assistant coach.

Nine victims have already come forth with allegations of abuse.

Other football coaches and high ranking university officials were also aware of the allegations including then graduate assistant Mike McQueary, Athletic Director Tim Curley, Senior Vice President Gary Schultz and University President Graham Spainer, in addition to Paterno.

Curley (who has taken of leave of absence for now) and Schultz have been charged with lying to a grand jury. Also, the university's board of trustees has told Spainer that he must resign or that he will be fired.

Scandals have rocked college football over the last couple of years, but the incidents that involved the athletic departments at USC, Ohio State and Miami involve NCAA violations of improper benefits and paying players.

What happened with Reggie Bush, Terrelle Pryor and Nevin Shapiro doesn’t even compare to the sad series of events that have been reported to occur in Happy Valley over the years.

The allegations surrounding Sandusky and Penn State officials involve moral issues and violations of state law, not the rules of an athletic governing body in regards to the amateurism of athletes. 

No criminal charges are being filed against Paterno, but moral questions are being raised about whether he did enough to stop future incidents after first hearing about incidents.

He told university officials about the 2002 incident that McQueary told him about, but it seems that no further action was taken after that. Paterno nor anyone else for that matter seemed to get law enforcement involved or even issue a punishment of any kind for that matter. Sandusky was allowed on campus at State College and was working out in Nittany Lions’ facilities until recent weeks.

It seems to many people that Paterno and others were covering up the actions of long-time football coach and indirectly contributed to inhumane acts. 

Paterno may not be accused of any crime, but his failure to stop further abuse may be equal a conviction on some scale in the court of public opinion. His name will always be synonymous with Penn State football and so will the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

It remains to be seen how the image of Paterno will change over the long run, but the debate is over about whether or not the image of Happy Valley or the legend of JoePa has been tarnished by these horrible allegations.

Much worse is the alleged harm that Sandusky has caused to his victims and those responsible for doing nothing to stop it.