During happier times in Happy Valley, I stand next to a statue of someone I have admired greatly over the years, Joe Paterno. It's been a mind-boggling week for Penn State football fans. Photo by Todd Larson

Here you have it, a legacy tarnished by scandal.

Did legendary college football coach Joe Paterno — a diminutive man in the physical sense whose persona is bigger than anything physical on the campus at Penn State — cover up a sex scandal involving one of his former coaches years ago?

Paterno has admitted in the wake of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s arrest for allegedly molesting eight boys over 15 years that he should have done more following an incident brought to his attention by a graduate student in 2002. That’s accepting a portion of the guilt right there. Paterno, 84, went a little further by announcing he would retire at the end of the season, amid this disgrace.

Paterno didn’t molest any children. He didn’t witness any children being molested. He was told of an incident and took it to the athletic director and an executive director, who have both been arrested for not pursuing the matter further. Prosecutors have publicly stated that Paterno is not under investigation for any wrong-doing.  

But after giving 61 years to the program — 46 as head coach — and bringing millions of dollars to the school, the board of trustees fired him on Wednesday night. After he helped shape thousands of young athletes into future NFL players, doctors, lawyers, and teachers, he was given his walking papers.

As a Penn State football fan for many years, it’s been difficult to digest all this in the last few days. If Joe Pa knew what Sandusky was doing to young boys and did nothing, his firing, of course, is more than an acceptable action, something that should have happened years ago. But when you’ve come to think of the man as an icon, a part of you wants to believe he did what he was supposed to do, while others failed him, the school, and, most significantly, the victims.

But deep down, you know that’s wrong. Joe Paterno was the person who should have gone to police after a graduate assistant allegedly witnessed his former player, former coach and friend, Jerry Sandusky, sexually assaulting a boy in March of 2002. He should have led officers to Sandusky’s front door. He didn’t do that. It breaks your heart that he didn’t do that. He informed former athletic director Tim Curley, also a former player for Paterno. Nothing was done. Sandusky could have been behind bars nine years ago, unable to hurt any more children. Paterno must carry that weight for the rest of his life.

Now a dark cloud hovers over Penn State football, over Beaver Stadium, in what is — or was — Happy Valley.

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Brad Spencer

Brad Spencer has been covering sports in and around Oak Park for more than a decade, which means the young athletes he once covered in high school are now out of college and at home living with their parents...

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