Thursday, November 10, 2011

An embarrassing exit for a legend

Penn State's board of trustees fire Coach Joe Paterno for failing to report an incident of child sexual abuse to police, and students riot in support of "Joe Pa"? If there's any doubt that big-time sports are running academia, it can be proven in the students' attitude: The big game with Nebraska is more important than protecting innocent child victims.

On the other hand, no one has been convicted in this case. A prosecutor has brought charges against the alleged perpetrator, former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, but Sandusky maintains his innocence and has not yet faced a jury. The charges against Sandusky have created a media sensation with many seemingly willing to forgo due process and fair trial. Paterno, as well, apparently will not get his day in court to defend his legendary reputation.

Regardless of the truth of the allegations, Paterno's departure is a sad ending for a storied career. He has won more college football games than any major-college coach, and he has avoided any hint of scandal. But if the allegations are true, he failed police his assistant coach and made only a minimal attempt to report the crime reported to him. Only a week ago, Paterno, 83, had seemed destined to walk away into history with insurmountable victories and a reputation without blemish. Now he may have only the victories.

But the students at Penn State who rioted on his behalf need a reality check. Big Ten football is one thing; child sex abuse is quite another. Hint: The latter is the bigger deal.

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