Penn State -- finally -- has done something right in the child-abuse sex scandal that has rocked the football program. The school fired Joe Paterno, its football coach for the past 46 years, on Wednesday night. This action came only a few hours after Paterno, 84, had announced he would retire -- but at the end of the season.
As I wrote in my column for Wednesday's newspaper, Paterno didn't fulfill his moral obligation when he was told of an eyewitness account of an alleged sexual assault committed by his longtime former assistant, Jerry Sandusky, on a 10-year-old child in the Penn State football facility's showers in 2002. (At the time, Sandusky was retired but still had the run of the Penn State facility -- the eyewitness was a Penn State graduate assistant).
Paterno said in a statement Wednesday that in hindsight he wished he had done more -- he told the school's athletic director about the alleged 2002 incident but not the police. As of early Wednesday, Paterno planned to coach the Nittany Lions against Nebraska Saturday.
Penn State's board of trustees, however, didn't think that was enough and severed ties with Paterno immediately. The school's president, Graham Spanier, also was fired Wednesday night. The athletic director Paterno reported the alleged sexual assault to was already gone.
The fallout will undoubtedly continue, but this was a necessary step. I was in the studio of WFNZ's excellent afternoon radio show with Taylor Zarzour and Marc James Wednesday afternoon, talking for an hour mostly about Paterno. It didn't matter that it wasn't a local topic per se; it seemed to be what every caller wanted to weigh in on.
When the co-hosts asked me point-blank if Paterno should be coaching Saturday against Nebraska -- if retiring at the end of the season was really enough -- I had to think about it for a second. I had just wanted him out; I hadn't thought as much about the timing of it.
Then I said I hoped Paterno wouldn't be coaching Saturday, that when you want to clean house, you might as well get started sooner rather than later.
Penn State's house is badly stained, and it needs to be cleaned up. This was a beginning, but in no way is it the end.
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