Last Wednesday, the Penn State board of trustees fired football coach Joe Paterno and President Graham Spanier in connection with the recently uncovered child abuse scandal. Shortly after the announcement, a few hundred Penn State students took to the streets in support of their beloved ‘JoePa,’ tipping over cars, knocking down lamp posts, and throwing rocks at police. What these protestors failed to realize is that Penn State was right to fire both Paterno and Spanier, and addressing such serious issues should always come before sports.
Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, former Penn State defensive co-ordinator (who unexpectedly retired from football in 1999) Jerry Sandusky ran the Second Mile program, a charity for youth in State College, Pennsylvania. During his time at the Second Mile, Sandusky allegedly sexually abused eight different boys. Janitor James Calhoun and Penn State graduate assistant Mike McQueary both reported witnessing instances of Sandusky sexually abusing a young boy in the Penn State showers. No police reports were filed for either case.
When the Penn State board of trustees fired Paterno and Spanier, they were taking the necessary measures. Some claim that Paterno did everything in his power, or did things by the book. He didn’t. There is no book for what to do when allegations surface of sexual abuse of children. Even though there is a “chain of command” in most athletic organizations, there’s absolutely no reason not to contact police in such a situation.
When allegations surfaced at McGill in early 2005 of sexual misconduct by members of the football team, McGill wasted no time disciplining those involved. While this move by the university affected the football team dramatically, it was an appropriate and proportionate reaction. While the situation at Penn State is not in any way shape or form like what happened at McGill, the swift reaction isn’t too unfamiliar. Unlike at McGill, it wouldn’t make sense for Penn State to cancel the final home game of the season, as these events were not caused by the members of the team.
The riot response by Penn State students is foolish and misguided. Clearly, these students care very much about their school’s football team. In this case, however, Paterno’s firing is not about football. It’s about serious crimes that allegedly took place while Paterno was in charge, and the lack of response by the leadership at Penn State to investigate these allegations. One more game would have been one too many for Paterno.
Students and athletes alike need to realize that some things can happen in the sports world that overshadow the sports themselves. This is one of those situations. Suggestions that Paterno’s removal was unjust are ridiculous and ignorant of the nature of the crimes of which Sandusky is accused. Accusations of rape of young boys are very serious, and Penn State students should treat them as such. The board of trustees certainly does, and they did the right thing.