He now passes to eternity less as a legendary coach than as that guy from Penn State who let pedophile Jerry Sandusky keep abusing kids.
Former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, center, leaves the Centre County Courthouse in custody with Centre County Sheriff Denny Nau, left, after being found guilty of multiple charges of child sexual abuse in Bellefonte, Pa., Friday, June 22, 2012. Sandusky was convicted of sexually assaulting 10 boys over 15 years, accusations that had sent shock waves through the college campus known as Happy Valley and led to the firing of Penn State's beloved Hall of Fame coach, Joe Paterno.
Who would have thought, a year ago, that the name Jerry Sandusky would be as well known, maybe even more widely known, than that of his boss and patron, Joe Paterno?
Until the revelations that brought down Penn State's legendary football coach last year, Sandusky was nobody except among the most focused of football fans and the people who live - or have spent the best years of their lives - in State College, that small town compounded by a huge university in a hollow below Nittany Mountain, where Penn State stands at the heart of Pennsylvania like a Shangri-La.
Today, found guilty of 45 counts of sexual abuse, Sandusky resonates as a relic of a generation in which abuse was something that seemed to shame those who even learned of it. And it is the combination of Paterno's passive role and Sandusky's years of predation that make this a turning point in the fight against the sexual abuse of children.
Had the case not been tied to Paterno, a revered sports figure virtually in a class of his own, who appeared to be living his motto of "Success with Honor," it would not have gotten the attention it has drawn. And the pattern of turning away from the facts - which has come to be associated with the Catholic church - now is laid bare in a college sports setting.
Friday's verdicts should be an inspiration for victims of abuse to come forward, no matter where they are, no matter how prominent or beloved their abusers, to say: This happened to me and it was wrong. And if people didn't know about it, they should have.
In the olden days, reports of sexual abuse prompted many, whether priests or educators or even parents, to try to wish it away, hope they were wrong about what they thought they saw or heard or were told, and to grasp at the flimsiest of excuses to tell themselves they had done their part, done the best they could, fulfilled their responsibility. That it was not really that bad. That the kids would be fine.
This was Paterno's downfall. Being told that Sandusky was seen abusing a boy in a shower, Paterno told a superior - not the authorities as required by law - what he had heard. And then, no doubt gratefully, told himself it was out of his hands. And went on as if it hadn't happened.
When the revelations finally became public years later, Paterno, then 85, being of that earlier generation, had not the instinct to realize what he had done, to swiftly resign and apologize profusely to the victims and the families and everyone he had let down, and then fade into a chastened but still perhaps dignified retirement.
As it is, he was fired and died a short time later of cancer. Paterno's fate is a tragedy. He probably should have retired long before the Sandusky case fell into his lap. He now passes to eternity less as a legendary coach than as that guy from Penn State who let a pedophile keep abusing kids.
To those who knew and revered him, it will forever feel as though he was the victim. But he had the power to make it different. He could have done the right thing all those years ago and spared future victims. Or he could at least have faced up to what happened and become a champion for victims of abuse. He could have been the hero.
That's the take away from all this, after Friday's verdicts. And the real tragedy.
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