Just when you thought we were moving along and laying the sordid past to rest (at least until June, when Jerry Sandusky’s trial is scheduled), ESPN’s Outside the Lines comes along with a detailed, behind-the-scenes investigative account of Joe Paterno’s dismissal after a 61 year tenure at Penn State.
The story, by Don Van Natta, Jr., also appears in the April 16, 2012 “One Day, One Game” issue of ESPN The Magazine. The following paragraph gives you a portent of the story.
“The untold story, though, is about bare-knuckle Pennsylvania politics, old grudges and perceived slights. It involves a stagnated child sexual abuse investigation that, to some, took a backseat to higher-profile cases and a gubernatorial campaign. It involves a head football coach who knew too little and, still, failed to do enough. It includes a passive school board of trustees that for months ignored a lurking controversy and then, under pressure to preserve Penn State’s reputation, quickly fired its legendary coach without ever talking with him.”
Although many readers know the story inside and out, Van Natta reveals some earthy details, for example that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett played a significant role in firing the late, lamented head coach, who passed away from complications of lung cancer two months after being disgraced by the Penn State Board of Trustees. To wit:
Through it all, the central character was Corbett. “Something not very good happened,” he told reporters on Nov. 9, hours before he urged his fellow trustees to fire Paterno. “We have to … take the bull by the horns and fix it. Quickly.” Publicly, Corbett made it clear that he thought he was the most qualified person to fix Penn State.
Contrary to what appeared to be acting as the primary string-puller, Corbett publicly stated that he played only a minor role in the Trustees’ decision. Corbett has an ex-officio seat on the Board of Trustees. One Trustee said, “That is a bald-faced lie.”
Corbett had his comeuppance as attorney general of Pennsylvania, where his reputation was formed in bringing down powerful people. Old instincts don’t die easily.
Read the ESPN article. It is lengthy and it rubs salt in old wounds, but a thorough understanding of the circumstances can only serve to assuage some of the pain. Or not.