in the wake of the horrible sexual abuse scandal there. The entire situation is tragic, but the board acted promptly and rightly in asserting its authority at a school where, as with many big-time football powers, the coach and the athletic program are virtual deities.
In the case of the legendary Paterno, he is as iconic a coach as there is, with more wins than any other major college football coach and a well-deserved reputation as a football titan. But, like many titans, it appears he overestimated himself. He apparently thought he could still dictate the terms of his future at Penn State -- even after having displayed 10 years of reprehensible cowardice regarding the now-public allegations that former Penn State defensive coach and Paterno friend Jerry Sandusky sexually abused at least 8 boys. Essentially, after being told in 2002 by an eyewitness about Sandusky's allegedly sexually molesting a 10-year-old boy in the locker room shower, Paterno simply told his boss and then, when his superiors did nothing, kept his mouth shut for 10 years -- giving Sandusky a decade in which he allegedly continued to ruin more young lives through his access to young boys via a charity he runs for vulnerable youths. The university was sufficiently convinced of Sandusky's dangerousness to bar him from school locker room facilities -- but, for some odd reason, did not feel moved to protect potential victims outside of the university by going public with the embarrassing news about the allegations against one of their own.
Paterno's implicit message, as revealed in his own defense: Hey, I told my boss about this. I followed the rules. If they choose to hide the problem and not tell the police, why should I stick my neck out and bring down my football program by going to the police myself? Well, maybe now Joe realizes why he should have: because preventing 10 years of rapes of children is more important than protecting the brand name of Penn State football.
Paterno apparently thought he could outmaneuver the Board of Trustees by pre-emptively announcing yesterday that he would retire at the end of this season. But he badly underestimated them. The outraged board replied by swiftly and correctly handing Paterno his head, effective immediately, and by just as appropriately booting Penn State President Graham Spanier. Two of Paterno's bosses, Athletic Director Tim Curley and VP for Finance and Business Gary Schultz, have now been indicted for perjury and failing to report the incident to law enforcement. The grand jury says that Spanier also knew about the allegations against Sandusky and kept quiet, but at this point neither he nor Paterno have been indicted.
There are, of course, politics here. Paterno has been angering the board for years with his imperial behavior. His latest stunt, trying to escape the scandal via his sudden statement of retirement without consulting with the board, no doubt angered them more. And Paterno and President Spanier have reportedly tussled for power for years.
But the politics don't alter the facts. Paterno and Spanier are out on their ears because they failed the most basic test of responsibility for the welfare of young people and for the character of the university. And Curley and Schultz have been indicted because failing to be honest about an alleged sex crime on campus and to report it to authorities is, according to the Pennsylvania attorney general, illegal.
But what this is really about is that college football, at the big football schools, is a business. It pulls in big money from alumni benefactors. It generates media hype. It attracts students. It builds a college's brand. It is a collusion among frenetic high school and college coaches, see-no-evil college administrators, the NCAA, the NFL, and glory- and money-hungry athletes. It is an industry, and its ruthless needs trump quaint concerns like ethics, academics, respecting women, and safeguarding the interests of young people in general.
The most tragic thing about the Penn State debacle is that more young people were, according to the charges, set up to be sexually brutalized and traumatized in the ensuing years in part because a coach and several administrators were afraid to damage their venerated football program.
The second-most-tragic thing is that, in the midst of a Great Recession and the kinds of vast suffering and plutocratic brutality we've not seen since the 1930s, thousands of students at Penn State now feel moved to near-riots involving toppled lampposts and overturned cars not because American society is sinking toward peonage and fascism but because they are losing their football coach.
Penn State is perennially rated as one of the nation's top party schools by Princeton Review. It was ranked the #1 party school in 2009, when this episode of the popular radio program This American Life provided a glimpse into the circus-like aspects of student life there.
One can wonder, too, how administrators could have worked for 10 years to bury this awful Sandusky issue without word leaking out to anyone on the Board of Trustees. I mean, these are heavyweights we are talking about: the board's vice chairman, who made the announcement of Paterno's firing, is CEO of U.S. Steel, for God's sake.
Still, it's good to see that even as crowds rage on campus, the Penn State Board of Trustees appears to be awake, sober, and willing to act.