Penn State University Administration officials on Tuesday abruptly cancelled the scheduled press conference by legendary football coach Joe Paterno, where he was scheduled to discuss his role in the unfolding sex abuse scandal engulfing Penn State. Speculation is all over the media that Paterno will be forced to resign over allegations that he knew about, and failed to report, instances of child abuse at Penn State facilities by long time Assistant Coach, Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky has now been charged with multiple counts of child abuse involving multiple boys, and two administrators at Penn State the former athletic director and the former vice president have been indicted for perjury and failing to report child abuse.
Joe Paterno, affectionately called “JoePa” by his admirers–is, by all accounts, a good and decent man. He has faithfully coached the Penn State University football team for 46 years and created a clean program in the midst of the cesspool of college football. To my knowledge, no one has ever questioned his integrity. Now, however, it appears he has made a terrible mistake, and it looks as if he will be rightly held accountable for it.
As an advocate for survivors of child abuse for two decades now–as well as a long time fan of Coach Paterno’s–here is what I wish JoePa would say:
“I come before you to admit that I have made a terrible mistake. I acknowledge that mistake and I apologize unconditionally to the boys abused by Jerry Sandusky as well as to my players and to Penn State fans. I humbly ask forgiveness from all these people. I will do whatever I can do to try to account for my misconduct. When I leave this press conference, I will tender my resignation as head coach of the Penn State football program and then I will walk over to the Police Department in State College, PA and turn myself in to the police for failing to report child abuse. Now, I have heard some pundits say that I had no legal obligation to report; but I will let law enforcement make that determination. Certainly I had a moral obligation, and I failed miserably. Once I do those two things, I will then make arrangements to pay for the counseling needs of every boy harmed by Jerry Sandusky for as long as each boy needs it.
For 46 years, I have tried to instill in my student-athletes a sense of integrity and morality. That integrity includes acknowledging wrongdoing and accepting the consequences of one’s actions. Consequences in a situation like this first and foremost mean making an unconditional apology, without excuse or explanation, and taking steps to right the wrong. That is what I am trying to do now. I reiterate that I apologize unconditionally to the young men involved and to the community and I will do whatever I can to make this right. I offer no explanation or excuses.
Because I care about kids, however, and because I do not want other kids to be abused in other institutions of trust, I want the world to understand how something like this happens, with hope that other institutions like Penn State, respected by society and given its trust, might learn from and not repeat my mistakes.
I love Penn State University. I love our football program. I have poured 46 years of my life in trying to create a place where young men are well-formed, with high integrity and deep convictions about right and wrong, compassion and love. I take great pride in the program that we have built here. I believe in our mission, and I would do anything to protect it. And that, my friends, is the problem.
I did not think about and I did not reflect upon what my failure to act could mean for youngsters who were under Coach Sandusky’s spell. I instinctively reacted with the most short-sighted and narrowest of visons, to protect Penn State and our football program. In this sense, I am no different than Cardinal Bernard Law, former archbishop of Boston, who chose to protect the institution of the Catholic Church over the safety of children when he transferred abusive priests over and over again. I am no different than the top leadership of the Boy Scouts of America, who for decades ignored mounting evidence that their organization was being infiltrated by pedophiles, and did nothing to warn parents or Scouts. And I am no different than the leadership of numerous other churches, schools, or other institutions of trust who have a responsibility for young people. I chose to protect my beloved organization rather than to protect children.
I was completely, totally, and unconditionally wrong. For this, I am deeply sorry, and I apologize unconditionally. I will have nothing further to say on this matter, for I need now to go spend some time searching my conscience and asking my God for forgiveness.”
That’s what I wish he would say.
Kelly Clark is an attorney in Portland, Oregon, who represents survivors of child sexual abuse.