I was ten.
The room was dark and the night was late.
Quiet filled the house but I knew that soon the floorboards would creak. He always tried to keep his footsteps light, trying not to wake me.
But I wasn’t asleep.
I couldn’t sleep.
And then they came.
The wood planks were old and unforgiving, letting out long groans with each of his steps.
I squeezed my eyes shut.
I prayed, “Please don’t come into my room tonight, not again.”
I balled my fists; maybe I could fight back.
But I knew that I wouldn’t.
The shame began to wash over my body again.
The bedroom door slowly opened.
I held my breath.
Joe Paterno is a revered man, a walking saint in the eyes of many. His life has been blessed with a success few of us will ever obtain, and accomplishments that as youngsters and adults alike we dream about.
I’m not a college football fan, but I can certainly respect and even admire a man who has worked diligently and persistently to achieve at the highest level.
More Bowl victories and appearances than any coach; the only coach to have won the Rose, Orange, Sugar, and Fiesta Bowls; two National Championships; five undefeated seasons; and one of the 50 greatest coaches of all time – that’s in all sports.
On his way to work, he walks by a statue of himself everyday. Spread out along the wall of the campus bookstore is a Da Vinci like ubiquitous and elaborate mural with Joe at its center.
He walks in and whispers my name quietly.
I pretend to sleep.
My body starts to shiver.
It always did.
Before going to bed, I cocooned myself in the blanket, hoping that it would offer some protection.
It never did.
He peeled away its layers.
A tear trickled down my cheek.
Joe Paterno was fired today; relieved of his duties as Head Coach.
His illustrious career has ended in a dark cloud of thundering controversy.
“Fire him!” many shouted.
“Don’t fire him!” responded others.
But fire him they did.
Some rioted. Cars were overturned. Emotional outcries poured from shocked fans.
In 2002, a Graduate Assistant told Joe that he witnessed the former Penn State Defensive Coordinator – Joe’s employee – performing a sex act on a ten-year old boy.
He witnessed it.
He reported it.
Joe’s employee molested a child in Joe’s locker room (this next sentence is not for the faint of heart); On Penn State’s campus, in the athlete’s showers of Joe Paterno’s locker room, Jerry Sanduky was having anal intercourse with a ten-year old boy.
I am physically sickened just writing that sentence.
Joe reported it to the Athletic Director but not on that day: Joe reported it the next day.
Not to the local police.
Not to Campus Security.
He reported in only to the Athletic Director; to this day, we don’t know what those exact words were and if they included all of the graphic details of the incident.
My assumption is that Joe told the Athletic Director everything; that the Director would take the reins and notify the authorities.
But the man didn’t. He did nothing.
Instead of being arrested, charged, and convicted, a retired Jerry Sandusky, continued to enjoy his emeritus status on campus and used the facilities as he pleased.
He used them to continue molesting his prey.
Nine years passed from the first molestation report, and Jerry Sandusky was arrested and charged with 40 (40!) counts of sexual abuse of young boys over a 15-year period, Sandusky acknowledged at least 8 victims – 8!
It is believed that at least 20 (20!) events took place at Penn State.
And those are only the ones to whom he admitted.
Sandusky is 67 years old, molestation by a man on a boy doesn’t start at middle-age, at age 52; it is an act that begins much sooner in the predator’s life; it is an act that continues unabated until that predator’s own demise or capture.
Believe me, there are far more victims than the 8 to which Sandusky has been charged with molesting.
When the news first broke, I wanted to side with Joe Paterno, I really did. After all, he was a man to be admired not only for his career, but also for his professional demeanor, his focus on the academic process of his athletes, and for his commitment to both community and family.
Joe Paterno has five children.
What if it had been one of them?
Would you have taken a different course of action, Joe?
I really would like to know.
The visits to my room went on for a few years.
Eventually he would turn on my brother, too.
Over that time, I became angry, violent even, and lashed out verbally and physically at school, at home, and in the public.
I was labeled as a bad kid.
For decades, I had tremendous difficulty trusting anyone, particularly men.
I wanted to be alone.
I despised affection.
I met my molester through the “Big Brothers” program. Growing up without a father, my mother thought it best to provide me with a male role model and enrolled me in the “Big Brother” program.
His name was Mark Smith; he lived in a suburb of Minneapolis.
It was 1984.
Like Mark Smith, Jerry Sandusky worked in a youth program “giving back” to the community, but truly used the guise of working with young boys as a means to surround himself with an array of potential victims from which he could choose.
A predator does not wear a sign.
A predator works harder to blend into the community.
A predator overcompensates for his need to abuse by becoming that man that no one could possibly see as a predator.
Joe Paterno is old enough, wise enough, and mature enough to know this.
Joe Paterno was the leader of an organization: head coach, CEO, commander-in-chief; it doesn’t matter. One has the obligation to manage an organization in all matters relevant when one holds the position of authority.
Expectations for our leaders are higher than those are for others.
That’s why leaders are paid more, sometimes exorbitantly more.
That’s why they receive perks the rest of us never will.
Joe Paterno’s employee molested – raped – a boy on campus, in the athletic facilities: Joe Paterno had more than a moral obligation to ensure that the matter was investigated and by the appropriate authorities: he had a legal obligation.
When I first heard of the allegations, and the calls for Joe to step down, I wondered if we were judging Joe too quickly and seeking to vilify him, as our society tends to do.
And then I gathered the facts.
Joe, you made a mistake.
A really, really big one.
I understand that your life is football; your profession football, and that every ounce of you is football.
No one ever wants or expects to be a part of something as heinous as this. But you were, and when you were, you had tough choices to make.
That’s the role of leadership.
Because of your conscious decision to wipe your hands clean of a very dirty matter, others were molested; more boys have suffered in despair; a few will live in the dark pit of self-hatred and for their entire lives.
Some may even continue the cycle of abuse as it has happened to them.
Some will have troubles with intimacy.
Some will turn to alcohol, others to drugs.
Some may never see the light of a life beautiful.
Am I reaching here?
But I don’t think so.
Joe Paterno enjoyed a great and admirable career. He made a mistake and that career has ended because of it.
Was it too harsh?
Should he have been allowed to coach the final game of the season?
Some mistakes require severe and swift punishment.
It is not the way his career should have ended.
Far from it and I truly do sympathize with him.
But it did.
A small part of me still hopes that one piece of information is still missing; one piece of knowledge that will vindicate Joe. I want to see Joe on a float in a parade celebrating and being celebrated the way a man of his stature should have been.
Screaming fans under confetti, ribbons, and streamers is how it should have been.
I want to point to him and tell my son: That’s a role model, that’s how you should be.
But I haven’t seen that missing bit of evidence that would clearly vindicate Joe; I don’t think that I will.
Please, just say it ain’t so, Joe.
Just say it ain’t so.
To those youngsters that have inexplicably found themselves the center of that disgusting and unexplainable side of humanity: you are not alone; your pain is real; you are suffering, but remember that you can make, you will make it.
And when it’s over, you can overcome it. You can grow into a beautiful and wonderful human being.
You are normal.
Don’t be afraid.
It’s not your fault; it never was.