Word spread Thursday that Pennsylvania State University plans to honor the 50th anniversary of Joe Paterno becoming head football coach -- and outrage spread, too.
While the late Paterno was highly successful on the field, his career was tarnished by reports that have grown in the last year that he and other Penn State officials looked the other way as Jerry Sandusky -- a key member of Paterno's coaching team -- abused numerous boys. "The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children whom Sandusky victimized," said the 2012 report Penn State commissioned about the Sandusky scandal, and that statement counted Paterno among those men.
Under activities for the Sept. 17 game against Temple University, Penn State included this item: "Commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Coach Joe Paterno -- Activities during the game will take place to commemorate Joe Paterno's first game as the head football coach at Penn State -- Sept. 17, 1966."
Penn State has struggled with Paterno's legacy. The university fired him in 2011 after the Sandusky scandal broke and he died of cancer not long after. Many Penn State football fans, some of them major donors, have defended Paterno and said that the university was too harsh in its judgments of him. But many others have said that any honors for Paterno suggest a tolerance of his actions (and especially his lack of action) in the Sandusky case.
Amid these tensions, court documents released in July raised the possibility that Paterno knew about -- and ignored -- the abuse by Sandusky for a longer period than had previously been thought, a scenario that could have significantly increased the number of children Sandusky abused.
According to the documents, a man identified as John Doe 150 testified in 2014 that he was molested by Sandusky when he was 14, and that he reported the abuse to Paterno in 1976. "I don't want to hear about any of that kind of stuff," Paterno allegedly told the boy. "I have a football season to worry about." The documents include several allegations that other Penn State officials ignored claims of abuse against Sandusky for decades, as well.
Eric Barron, Penn State's president, criticized the reports about those court documents. "While individuals hold different opinions, and may draw different inferences from the testimony about former Penn State employees, speculation by Penn State is not useful. Although settlements have been reached, it also is important to reiterate that the alleged knowledge of former Penn State employees is not proven, and should not be treated as such. Some individuals deny the claims, and others are unable to defend themselves. Speculation also serves to drive a wedge within the Penn State community."
An athletics department spokesperson told the Associated Press Thursday that Penn State plans to announce specifics of the commemoration shortly before the Sept. 17 football game. He declined to comment further.
On social media, criticism of Penn State's plans to honor Paterno was intense.
Hmmmm. Wouldn't the most appropriate Paterno gesture be staying silent for decades? https://t.co/T2x1rgAEfz— Jordan Klepper (@jordanklepper) September 1, 2016
Joe Paterno lets colleague molest children for YEARS *is honored at game*#Kaepernick raises racial social justice issues *national uproar*— Sam White (@samwhiteout) September 1, 2016
If Penn State really wants to honor Joe Paterno's memory they should not tell anyone about the ceremony, then admit to it in several decades— Patrick Monahan (@pattymo) September 1, 2016
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