If Joe Paterno resigns as the head football coach at Penn State, it is a good start. However, it is nowhere near enough. Voluntarily giving up your high-paying, prestigious job under pressure isn’t a sufficient penalty for endangering the physical and mental wellbeing of children and won’t do enough to deter such cover ups in the future.
This is an opportunity for Paterno and others to learn from their failure to protect the most vulnerable members of our community and model personal and public responsibility.
- First, Paterno should demonstrate the leadership and moral character he demanded of others during his long coaching tenure and that he insisted upon from his players. When the safety of children was at stake, Paterno failed to embody those values. He can be a model of accountability and change by educating himself about child sex crimes from survivors, their families, law enforcement, child advocacy organizations and experts. He can then take a public and proactive role in changing those elements of sports culture – at every level – that encourage, conceal or permit sexual violence.
- Second, Paterno should step forward and publicly support and urge the passage of legislation such as the Pennsylvania Child Victim’s Act, which will prevent more children from suffering abuse at the hands of predators like Sandusky.
- Third, Paterno must assure victims and their families that the he and the university are working with victim advocates in law enforcement offices to make sure that the best medical and treatment care is being provided to those harmed by Sandusky.
It is encouraging if Penn State holds Paterno accountable and makes him resign his position. It is necessary, however, that Paterno hold himself accountable and takes the steps above as well as other steps to help these victims heal and to prevent similar abuse and cover up in the future.
Paterno’s career as a football coach may be over soon. But his time as someone who can do something to protect children in the future should just be getting started.
Finally, whenever his career ends, let’s all show some sensitivity and compassion for those kids who were hurt because of his mishandling of the Sandusky case. Let’s not rub salt into their wounds by waxing eloquently about Paterno’s professional achievements. His on-the-field success is now sadly and appropriately dwarfed by his off-the-field failure.