Joe Paterno Is NOT A Victim

When news that former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was a serial child molester and rapist broke, I was utterly disgusted. The fact that several children had been mercilessly violated by an authority figure in their lives is truly heartbreaking.

But that’s not what the media circus has been highlighting because these instances of pedophilia have an additional element of horror. Several people were aware that Sandusky had inappropriate and criminal relationships with children. The most notable of those aware was head football coach Joe Paterno.

I don’t know anything about college football. I had heard the name Paterno before, but it wasn’t until this week that I learned of the legacy that he built. How his presence is firmly enmeshed in the institution of Penn State. How he has spent the last 46 years cultivating an excellent football program, how he was an exceptional  leader, a virtuous man full of integrity and morality. The kind of man you trust.

But this purportedly great man failed. He failed when he made the decision to not report his knowledge of Jerry Sandusky’s behavior to the proper authorities. Each moment that he carried the cognition of Sandusky’s crimes silently showed a deficit of all the values he publicly stood for.

No one knows why he didn’t report to the authorities .The idea that he was more interested in protecting the reputation of his program instead of standing up for victims of sexual violence is absolutely sickening. And yet, why is it that not only him, but a graduate student, several Penn State administrators, and members of the maintenance staff witnessed or knew of Sandusky’s conduct and didn’t report him. Is it because they believed so deeply in the power of their institution that they were in a state of denial? Or did so many people really value Paterno and football over human lives?

Naturally, there have been people who are asking why the responsibility fell to Paterno and other PSU higher-ups. Why didn’t the children say anything? It’s not Paterno’s fault. He shouldn’t be punished. Here’s the deal —  these children were in a position of subordination. Sandusky was an authority figure. Not only are children not conditioned to question authority, but our society is often guilty of victim-blaming as soon as  sexual violence comes into play. Paterno is complicit in Sandusky’s crimes the same way you would be complicit you would be if you walked in on your roommate’s boyfriend raping her and failed to take action. When people are powerless to defend themselves, it is the responsibility of those who have power to us it accordingly. And Paterno didn’t.

Joe Paterno has been fired, as have other members of Penn State’s administration.  They have been punished for not holding Sandusky accountable for his actions, and I believe that is fair.  Many people are far from pleased. Some of Paterno’s supporters rioted last night. He is not the victim here. The children who were molested under his watch are. And I firmly believe that enabling a child molester overshadows his legacy of being a football coach.

Molestation is always more important than football. Always.

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