Even Joe Paterno Must Be Accountable

Penn State Coach's Legacy Will Live On After Sex Scandal

Tarnished Hero: Penn State fans posing next to a statue of ex-coach Joe Paterno. The revered figure was fired over his role in a child sex scandal involving a former coach.
getty images
Tarnished Hero: Penn State fans posing next to a statue of ex-coach Joe Paterno. The revered figure was fired over his role in a child sex scandal involving a former coach.

By Laurie Stern

Published November 15, 2011, issue of November 25, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

The chimes of Old Main, the clock tower that looms over the campus of Pennsylvania State University, sound different these days: vacant, distant, ominous, as they’ve never been in my previous semesters. They’re no longer a quintessential collegiate timekeeper sheltered in a limestone tower. Now they’re a grave reminder of dark secrets that may have been uttered by men in the administrative offices below.

The final football weekend of my undergraduate career wasn’t supposed to be like this: Candlelight vigils held under a full moon, bomb threat advisories issued on a Saturday morning and moments of silence in a stadium of more than 100,000 people (dressed in blue, the color of child abuse awareness and, coincidentally, of the school).

It all went awry when the university was rocked by allegations that former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky sexually abused at least eight boys over the past decade. And worse still, top university officials allegedly knew and failed to call the authorities. Suddenly my own devotion to the university and what it stands for was in conflict with this deep moral failing. The details of the grand jury report indicting Sandusky, along with athletic director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, senior vice president of finance and business, for perjury, are more frightening than anyone could have imagined.

But it was 84-year-old Joe Paterno, the winningest coach in Division I college football history, who would ultimately cause the nation to look upon Happy Valley in dismay and question the integrity of institutions of higher education. While he apparently satisfied his legal responsibility by reporting the alleged sexual abuse to his higher-up, he failed to perform the moral duty of calling police once he was informed of an incident.

During a late-night press conference, the board of trustees announced that Penn State President Graham Spanier, who is Jewish, was fired along with Paterno.

Then the riots began.

Students poured out of their downtown apartments to wreak havoc in the name of JoePa, the golden calf of the religion that is Penn State football. A van was flipped; rocks were thrown; arrests were made.

Paterno and his family have done much for this institution. They contributed more than $4 million to fund university scholarships and to support the library and spiritual center. He is not just a coach; he’s an educator and is credited with helping Penn State become a top research university. His Brooklyn accent and Italian ancestry make him all the more likable.

I also felt the attraction. Being one of thousands of students at Beaver Stadium is exhilarating and terrifying all at once. There is a comfort that comes with chanting time-honored fight songs in unison and swaying when the marching band plays the alma mater. It’s always us against this team or that team, us against the world. Students here feel powerful and indomitable.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.