Finally, some leadership at top of Penn State emerges

Trustees step up, do the right thing by firing Paterno before Saturday's game

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The damage to Penn State from the Sandusky bombshell remains inestimable, particularly at its far horizons.

Years of criminal and civil litigation await the university's soon-to-be-overburdened attorneys, by just one example, and predicting what the institution will come to look like in the Post-Paterno Era strains the imagination.

Whatever its future, it's probably better than that of some still untold number of young boys who suffered soul-scorching sexual abuse that Penn State's top leadership allegedly could have prevented had it only the standard human apportionment of moral courage. You can paint over Jerry Sandusky's image on a State College mural, as an artist did Wednesday, but no artistic flourish or inspiration can begin to cover the psychological destruction he's alleged to have wrought.

Even at that, you would think Penn State would want to get after it, to begin some indeterminate future where the only guarantee is that it's better than this pathological present, but allowing Joe Paterno to turn up Saturday in Beaver Stadium for another round of this-is-more-important-than-anything, a mere football game, was not the way to get started.

Which is why, finally, some leadership emerged late last night. The university's board of trustees emerged from a two-hour meeting at a campus hotel with the news that president Graham Spanier and Paterno are now and forever in Penn State's rear view.

For the first time at Scandal Central, voices of at least quasi-authority started making decisions again Wednesday, starting with Paterno, who made the wrong one, saying "I have decided to announce my retirement effective at the end of this season."

Oh, he has decided.

The iconic coach then went on to direct the board of trustees not to bother discussing it, which was just about precisely what it was doing not 12 hours later.

Paterno and Spanier were on the agenda, which should have been essentially a matter of whom to fire first. Spanier was reportedly half gone by noon, but the more urgent situation still was the legend himself, who still was making his own schedule.

By allowing that he'll be retiring at the end of this season, Joe had magnanimously announced what everyone pretty much already knew. The guy was incapable of coaching 60 minutes from the sideline, no longer part of any halftime adjustments and complaining about what a pain in the neck his physical ailments had become to his coaching role, limited as it was.

He was coming up on 85. It was over.

But that was before anyone had read the shower scene in the grand jury report, before the world knew that Sandusky's alleged anal sex with the 10-year-old was plopped right on Paterno's desk, in whatever form, by graduate assistant coach Mike McQueary, before the 40 counts of perversion alleged against Sandusky, who Penn State allowed to prey on the defenseless for at least seven years subsequently and possibly eight years previously.

And he's retiring at the end of this season?

The board winced, then decided, "Ya know, we're gonna move that up a few weeks."

It might have taken nine, 11, 13, 17 years, but Paterno does finally realize what has happened to the program and the university, and he is genuinely if belatedly distraught.

"I am absolutely devastated by the developments in this case," he said in that statement. "I grieve for the children and their families, and I pray for their comfort and relief.

"This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."

There is no reason to doubt his sincerity, but his stated intentions for the remainder of his reign were simply impossible to approve.

"My goals now are to keep my commitments to my players and staff," he said, "and [to] finish the season with dignity and determination."

Those goals will be unmet.

Dignity's a powerful word there, a powerful word in every way, a powerful word that echoes in every dark corner of this terrible week.

Will I lose my dignity?

Will someone care?

Will I wake tomorrow

From this nightmare?

Those lyrics from "Rent," Jonathan Larson's shattering stage play, have been haunting my stream of consciousness since Joe invoked the term.

On a very foundational level, this is all about dignity lost, by the innocent victims, by the alleged perp, by his apparent enablers and by the Pennsylvania State University, which openly prided itself on being among the last places on earth where something like this could happen.

Not one ounce of that dignity would have been recovered by playing the fight song, letting Paterno come out of the tunnel, and teeing it up against Nebraska like it's just another magical Saturday in Happy Valley.


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