Rosenblum: After scandal, I say, ‘Say it ain’t so, Joe’

Jonah Rosenblum

Today, there are no heroes in Happy Valley.

The fact is we made a deity out of Joe Paterno. And there is nothing sadder than watching our heroes be reduced to deeply flawed mortals right in front of our very eyes.

At this moment, that’s the only conclusive statement that can be made about Joe Paterno and his role in the sexual assault scandal that has engulfed his former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

There are two anonymous sources that say he will be dismissed from Penn State. There’s another anonymous voice that says Paterno knew more than he was letting on about the allegations. Until those voices get sorted out and we figure out whether they are reliable sources or not, it’s way too early to strike the gavel down and make our decision as a public.

Yet, at the very least, this case is troubling. There are those who argue that Paterno did enough in informing his athletic director of the allegations against Sandusky. I tend to side with those who argue for a greater moral good. He may have followed the letter of the law, but it should have troubled him when he realized that no one was pursuing this case. It should have troubled him that an alleged child molester still had access to every campus building.

Don’t forget, this wasn’t any ordinary allegation. This wasn’t one of a million papers piled upon his desk. This was an allegation made against one of his top assistants, his former defensive coordinator. This was a graduate assistant who claimed that he saw the molestation occur. One would have expected more of a rise from Paterno.

More worrisome to me is whether Paterno is telling the truth now. I don’t think Paterno committed any offense worthy of dismissal in 2002. What I’m more worried about is what he’s saying in 2011. When pressed on the subject, Paterno claimed he knew little about the incident and certainly wasn’t aware of its graphic nature. According to the veteran coach, all he knew was something disturbing had happened that was perhaps sexual in nature. So, of course, he did the proper thing and passed the story upstairs.

But now, according to The New York Times, a source has said that Mike McQueary, the graduate assistant who reported the assault, told Joe Paterno to his face the explicit nature of what he witnessed. In short, Joe Paterno might have known that a young boy was sexually assaulted in the football building’s showers, and all he did was report it to the athletic director and then act as if nothing had happened.

And now, perhaps, he is lying, failing to tell us the truth about what he knew. If he is lying, that is hard to fathom. That is an offense worthy of dismissal.

He didn’t break the law, but one would expect a great man, as Paterno is said to be, to do more when confronted with facts like these. And one would certainly expect a great man to tell the truth.

There are very few heroes in sports.

You can pretty much count on one hand the number of stars who have survived the rush of bad news that has engulfed the sports world in recent years, including steroid allegations, criminal trials, extramarital affairs and NCAA violations.

We’re in an era when even a good Bible-touting quarterback for the Denver Broncos is ridiculed and detested.

But even as the dark cloud of misconduct overtook so many bright stars of the sports world, one man stayed above it all. For decades, Paterno was the ultimate hero. He ran a flawless program at Penn State, one that won on and off the field.

He was so beloved that even the cynical beasts that make up the sports media turned to mush whenever Paterno spoke. Men and women who had spent their entire lives criticizing football coaches and growing jaded about the game turned into eager little children when the small man with the horn-rimmed glasses entered the room.

Now, that legacy has been tarnished, if not ruined.

Sports editor Jonah Rosenblum is a Medill senior. He can be reached at [email protected]