The outcry of sobbing fans of a legendary and beloved college football coach abruptly announcing his retirement is in stark contrast to the near silence of past reported violence against children.
Penn State Coach Joe Paterno is 84, finishing up a stellar 60-plus year career. He has admitted that he made the minimum effort when he was told in 2002 that a child had been attacked in a locker room shower by an assistant coach. Nothing came of his report up the line to the university's athletics director.
In an indictment handed down this week, a grand jury has accused the former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky with sexually attacking other young boys. If true, these were crimes that could have been stopped. If true, these were crimes knowingly condoned by a culture of a popular sport.
Paterno was not the only one not to stop any misconduct by Sandusky. After an eyewitness reported what he had seen in the locker room shower, no one — not the athletics director nor anyone else at the university — made meaningful attempts at investigating what might have happened between Sandusky and the boy.
The harm goes beyond what happened to the young victims — the physical and emotional scars they might still carry and the likelihood they no longer trust most adults.
The harm is that Penn State has been outed as an organization that chooses the reputation of a man with talents and gifts in coaching over the cries for help of children. In fact, the culture of high-level sports is similarly tainted.
But the cries of outrage are rising for the lost legacy of beloved Coach Joe Paterno, all because he made a small step toward righting a wrong but didn't go far enough.
Let us never lose sight of the fact that crimes that go unpunished hurt far more than the original victim. Paterno followed the letter of the law but not its spirit.
Legally he complied.
Morally, he let down a lot of innocent children, his team, his college and his fans.
That's the true disgrace.
Copyright Springfield News-Leader. Reprinted with permission.