On Sept. 11, 2001, Penn State graduate assistant coach Mike McQueary burst into Joe Paterno's office to tell him the World Trade Center had been attacked by terrorists. Paterno told him to stop horsing around and shooed him away. It wasn't until moments later that Paterno realized the horrible truth.
I'm wondering if Paterno did the same thing when McQueary came to him in 2002 and told him he witnessed an alleged heinous, criminal sexual act the day before between former longtime Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky and a young boy in the showers at Penn State's Lasch Football Building. Is Paterno just now realizing the horrifying impact of what McQueary saw? Or did he fully understand it at that moment and chose to do nothing more about it than what was legally required?
We have heard so much about The Paterno Way over the years.
I'm wondering if the long-standing Paterno mantra -- "Success With Honor And Integrity" -- needs to be changed.
You know, to something like "Winning With Deep, Dark, Terrifying Secrets."
Not the way any of us expected the old coach to go out, which he surely will after this season.
If not sooner.
Paterno and McQueary, now Penn State's receivers coach, recruiting coordinator and on-field point man for the offense, need to take an immediate leave of absence. It isn't just the right thing to do, it's the only thing. The Sandusky sex scandal is so much bigger than the home game Saturday afternoon between No. 12 Penn State and No. 19 Nebraska.
Paterno released a statement Sunday saying that the "witness" -- McQueary -- was clearly "distraught" in their 2002 meeting but "at no time related to me the very specific actions" alleged to have been committed by Sandusky. That is hard to believe. Pretend you are a boss. If one of your employees comes to you in a bad emotional state, are you not going to ask him or her exactly what the problem is? Or in McQueary's case, exactly what he saw? If you don't, you would be an inept boss. Paterno, at that time, certainly wasn't inept.
Paterno loyalists say he did the right thing by kicking McQueary's eyewitness account up the ladder to athletic director Tim Curley and senior vice president for finance and business Gary Schultz. That argument is ridiculous. When it comes to Penn State football matters, no one is above Paterno on the ladder. The alleged Sandusky incident qualifies as a football matter even though he abruptly resigned as defensive coordinator in 1999. The rape of the young boy, believed to be around 10, supposedly happened in the Lasch Building.
State attorney general Linda Kelly said Monday that Paterno met his legal obligations by reporting the incident to Curley and Schultz. But what about his moral obligation? Once Paterno saw that Curley and Schultz basically were doing nothing about the allegation -- they were charged over the weekend with perjury and failure to tell police of their investigation into the alleged rape -- shouldn't he have pursued the matter further? Especially after he knew Sandusky had admitted in 1998 to having inappropriate contact with young boys in campus showers, though Sandusky wasn't charged with any crime?
Paterno should be finished at Penn State. Now. The same is true of McQueary, who also did nothing after reporting the alleged rape to Paterno until he testified before a grand jury in December 2010. Curley and Schultz already are out. Can Penn State president Graham Spanier be far behind? He claims he never was told the Sandusky allegations involved sexual conduct. Sorry, the boss is supposed to know everything. If he doesn't and a scandal of this magnitude explodes during his watch, he has to go.
Kelly would not rule out the possibility that Sandusky molested more than the eight young boys with whom he is charged with having inappropriate sexual contact. Is it not fair to think Curley, Schultz, McQueary and -- yes -- the iconic Paterno could have prevented the possibility of such sexual abuse by taking the Sandusky allegations more seriously?
It's fair to ask the question:
How do those men sleep at night?
"This is not a case about football," Pennsylvania state police commissioner Frank Noonan said Monday afternoon. "It is not a case about universities. It is a case about children, who have had their innocence stolen from them in a culture that did nothing to stop it or prevent it from happening to others."
Noonan is right. The future of the Penn State football program seems trivial at the moment. But it's easy to imagine this scandal setting it back for years.
It will be interesting to see the impact it has on Penn State donors. Paterno has raised countless millions for the university during his career. Will he be able to continue to do so? I don't see it.
It will be interesting to see the impact on recruiting. Reportedly, McQueary was on the road recruiting over the weekend when Sandusky was arrested and Curley and Schultz were charged. Can you imagine the reaction he received when he sat with mom and dad in the living room and told them their son would be safe and looked after at Penn State? Oh, to be a fly on that wall.
It will be interesting to see the crowd at the game Saturday. Attendance at Penn State home games has been an issue this season despite the squad's 8-1 record and stature as the only unbeaten team in the Big Ten Conference. There is a feeling among many alumni -- even those who are strong Paterno supporters -- that he has stayed on too long. Under the best of circumstances, the Nebraska game figured to be his final game at Beaver Stadium. Now, it will be a terribly sad ending.
It seems hard to believe that just 10 days ago -- after Penn State beat Illinois at home -- a beaming Spanier and a smiling Curley presented Paterno with a plaque in honor of his 409th win, which made him the all-time winningest Division I coach. The brief ceremony was shown on the Beaver Stadium scoreboard to those still in the stands on a miserable, snowy day.
It's safe to say there will be no celebration Saturday.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org . Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.