In waning hours, Paterno fumbles opportunity for a final lesson

Michael Vitris

Joe Paterno, legendary head football coach of Penn State’s Nittany Lions, announced Wednesday that he would retire at the end of the season amid a child abuse scandal that has rocked State College and captivated the country.

“The Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status,” the coach said in a statement, “I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can.”

Paterno — who declined to notify police after being told that his friend, former defensive coordinator and heir-apparent Jerry Sandusky raped a 10-year-old boy in the Penn State football facilities — believed that continuing to serve as the face of the university for five more Saturday’s after facilitating the most devastating cover-up in sports history was somehow an appropriate response.

Wednesday evening, Penn State’s Board of Trustees declined Paterno’s bizarre offer to finish the season and fired him along with the university’s president, Graham Spanier.

Paterno, until a week ago the most beloved coach in college athletics, preached integrity, honor and selflessness to his student-athletes for more than 40 years. After failing to protect an unknown number of young children from rape at the hands of his close friend in the football facilities where he ruled supreme, a quiet and immediate resignation seemed like a low hurdle and an opportunity to end his tenure with a scintilla of dignity.

Instead, Paterno fumbled the opportunity to impart on his students a final lesson: Even in the face of great personal failure and disappointment it is possible to act with integrity and to take responsibility for one’s mistakes. It is an unfitting end for a once-great teacher and coach.

Michael Vitris
Third-year UT law student