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No one, I don’t care who, could have predicted, much less bet, in a million years how Coach Joe Paterno’s football career is ending. Fired unceremoniously by phone by the Penn State University Board of Trustees, the powerful “JoPa’s” 61-year football career came to a halt in breathtaking fashion. University president Graham Spanier was also fired by the trustees.

Paterno allegedly did not do enough or did not act responsibly with some form or level of knowledge about a former assistant coach’s, Jerry Sandusky, accused sexual assault of a boy in a university locker room shower. Sandusky is now charged with molesting 8 boys between 1994 and 2009—which, if true, probably and logically means he has harmed far more youth. Two other PSU administrators have also resigned for apparently failing to alert authorities. The story gets worse.

The victims will eventually come forward later if not soon, as happened with the victims of priest abuse a few years ago. They and their families will likely win financial judgments, but they will be scarred emotionally and perhaps otherwise for life.

If indeed Jerry Sandusky is guilty as charged he should be sent to prison for the rest of his life. Retribution will then be served, but even then it’s difficult to identify justice in this, and no legal remedy changes what happened to these kids.

Last night, Penn State students rioted across campus in support of—the victims? No, in support of Coach Paterno. The students’ insensitivity to the child-victims of this scandal is further blackening the university’s already deeply black eye.

I was saddened earlier this year when Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel resigned in disgrace for not informing administrators and basically covering up several of his players’ rule violations. Did you catch that? Tressel cheated and I was saddened.

With Coach Paterno and the Penn State story I’m not just saddened. I’m sickened.

The classic Watergate questions come in handy: What did he know? And when did he know it?

How much did Paterno really know? Clearly the university Board tossed Paterno under the bus. One day the Board states it will create an investigation committee, and a day or so later the Board fires Paterno.

Either trustees are distancing themselves and, they hope, reducing their moral, financial, and reputational exposure, or they know more than we know. Perhaps Paterno really was the man who knew too much. Thus despite his illustrious coaching career—409 NCAA Division I football wins, the most ever—he must be held accountable at minimum for a failure of leadership, at most for a failure of character.

So far, I’d say the Board’s crisis leadership has been less than impressive. Mixed signals, lack of attention to explaining its biggest decision thus allowing students to twist out of control, firing Paterno by phone—classless even if he is worthy of firing--not firing, at least yet, others on the coaching staff who knew something, actually a lot, e.g., receivers coach Mike McQueary.

But I will also say this. Leaders now work behind the curve of real-time developments. Because smart phones with video, texting, and online capability are by the thousands on site as events take place it is literally impossible for leaders to stay ahead of what’s happening. Since they must check their facts to try to assure what they say is accurate and best, they must take time, meaning they are behind, always.

The same scenario happened in 2007 at Virginia Tech University when a student killed 32 people and himself, and wounded 25 others. University officials were blamed for a slow response, yet later investigation indicated they’d done most of what they could have done. So Penn State leaders are scrambling to find their way—but that’s now the rules of engagement in a cyber age.

From here on people need to slow down. This is an understandably deeply emotional issue, but people ranting on television that Sandusky should "have a needle put in his arm" or others saying trustees should pull down the Paterno statue on campus all need to dial it down. Sandusky will have his day in court. Paterno's statue perhaps should or should not be taken down--but the decision should not be made until the facts are identified, and they will be. The truth will out.

Well, what can you say? Serious. Sick. Sad. Sin. “Evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived, (2 Timothy 3:13).


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

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