Don't try to protect Paterno in Penn State sex abuse scandal by primarily blaming others
There are a lot of people scrambling to protect Joe Paterno today, to shift the blame away from him as much as possible in this awful situation at Penn State, where former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky stands accused of molesting at least eight boys. For the most part, they're fans, their perspective clouded by the legend and a myth they helped create, that Paterno was more saint than flesh and blood. And in emotional situations, some fans act irrationally in ways they'll one day regret.
But the people who are attempting to defend Paterno by focusing ALL the blame on Mike McQueary, the graduate assistant who allegedly witnessed Sandusky sexually assaulting a 10-year-old boy the locker room shower, could not have a more warped sense of priorities. I hope one day they'll realize how sad it is to try and parse blame here to protect Paterno. Of course McQueary erred in not contacting the police. Or by physically intervening. And yes, he'll have to live with that shame for the rest of his life. But pretending that somehow exonerates Paterno in this situation is ludicrous.
As the leader of an institution, a person with superiors in name only, a tremendous amount of leadership and integrity were needed from Paterno. And he failed. He failed in a catastrophic manner.
It matters little to what degree McQueary went into detail about the incident in the shower. Paterno himself testified to the grand jury that he was told the incident was "sexual in nature." That alone should have been enough to take action, and to follow up when nothing came of it. Paterno instead chose to protect the brand and forget about it, either out of arrogance, ignorance or fear.
We ask a lot of men like Joe Paterno. We expect courage and honor from them, and for years, he made it clear that his program would be held to a higher standard. The highest of standards. I have no doubt he is, deep down, a virtuous man who has been responsible for a ton of good during his lifetime. But when presented with the ultimate test of character, he made me believe those principals he espoused were little more than a marketing slogan.
McQueary certainly deserves blame here. He was a grown man at the time of the incident who, even if he felt powerless going up against the Penn State institution, didn't do enough. But no one -- not for a second -- should use McQueary's lack of courage to somehow deflect the way that Joe Paterno also failed those kids and his community. We don't ask a lot of graduate assistants, or even athletic directors. We do ask a lot of our legends.
Paterno had no one to fear by doing the right thing. No one. And he still didn't do it, beyond what he was "required" to do. Legally, it seems he is in the clear. But when the school needed him to be the man, and the leader, he always claimed to be, he did not do nearly enough.
And that is no one's fault but his own.