If Joe Paterno quits now, he will go out under a cloud that will last for eternity, not just for him but for Penn State University as a whole. It may be out of his hands, the forces of mass hysteria being what they are, but the only way Paterno could preserve one of America's proudest college legacies would be to stay and fight, or at least try.
Amid the nationwide fury over the Penn State sex scandal, there has been no indication thus far that iconic head football coach Paterno did anything illegal in connection with the allegations of sexual misconduct by a former assistant coach.
Nevertheless, flocks of Chicken Littles are screeching that Penn State's sky is falling and Paterno should have done more once he was told the assistant was having sex, or was doing something untoward, with a young boy in a locker room shower.
Books will be written about this mess, but let's look at a few facts as alleged by authorities, and by a grand jury presentment in particular.
First, the misconduct, it was reported, occurred three years after the assistant, Jerry Sandusky, quit working under Paterno, although the university continued to give him some privileges, such as an office.
Second, after another aide, "graduate assistant" Mike McQueary, told Paterno he'd seen Sandusky with the boy in the shower, Paterno promptly told Tim Curley, Penn State's athletic director, about it.
Third, the grand jury presentment says Gary Schultz, a senior vice president at Penn State, testified that at some point he "was called to a meeting with Joe Paterno and Tim Curley, in which Paterno reported 'disturbing' and 'inappropriate' conduct in the shower by Sandusky upon a young boy."
Fourth, the presentment says Schultz "oversaw the university police as part of his position," although "he never reported the 2002 incident to the University Police or other police agency."
Let's stop there to consider enraged demands that Paterno should have contacted "the police" about the allegation. He did contact police. Schultz headed the campus police force, which has as much authority as any other police force.
Ask yourself this: If you're made aware of an offense that occurred in Allentown, and you report it to the Allentown police even though it is based on hearsay, do you then run to various other police jurisdictions yelling about what you suspect?
Curley and Schultz were charged in the scandal and some are willing to let the legal system function in that regard, although others have embraced Nancy Grace's crusade to eradicate the "presumed innocent" concept from our culture. Paterno has not been charged with anything and Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly said he is "not a target" of her investigation. "Under the statute he had an obligation to report it to [Penn State administrators] and he did that," Kelly said at a press conference.
There has been much talk about details Paterno did or did not learn when told by McQueary of the shower misconduct. Descriptions of that misconduct have grown from "horsing around" and (in Paterno's words) a vague report from McQueary that lacked "specific actions" — to the grand jury presentment's explicit description of a specific sex act observed by McQueary.
After McQueary heard sounds from the shower, the presentment said, "he saw a naked boy … with his hands up against the wall being subjected to [a graphic description of a sex act] by a naked Sandusky. … The grand Jury finds [McQueary's] testimony to be extremely credible."
Oh, really? Left unanswered is why McQueary, recently a football player, did not take forceful action right there, instead of running away to tell his daddy, and then Paterno, about it. Can you imagine a big tough athlete coming upon the rape of a 10-year-old girl in progress and not taking immediate forceful action — including calling the police to come pick up whatever was left of the perpetrator?
As for those righteously indignant hordes now calling for Paterno's ouster because he did not do enough to protect eight or more children, I have one question aimed at putting this thing in perspective:
Where were you when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was given evidence that two judges in Luzerne County were destroying the lives of thousands of children by putting them in commercial detention facilities in return for payoffs? Where were you when it became clear the Supremes deliberately covered up that stench?
Show me where you demanded the ouster of Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron Castile because of his role in that atrocity.
Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and FridaysCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun