The accusations of sexual assault against former Pennsylvania State University assistant coach Jerry Sandusky are sickening, and the fact that some members of Penn State initially greeted this tragedy with inaction is absolutely unacceptable.
Still, it was for neither of those reasons that thousands of Penn State students took to the streets in protest on Nov. 9. Instead, the madness that overtook State College, Penn. was in response to the firing of Joe Paterno, the university's head football coach.
And for that they should be embarrassed.
Paterno, a college football demigod, and university president Graham Spanier, were let go by the Penn State Board of Trustees just over a week ago in light of the allegations against Sandusky. A necessary, yet controversial move.
"The university is much larger than its athletic teams," said Vice Chair of the Board John Surma following Paterno's firing.
Apparently, certain members of the student body were under a different impression as they crowded College Avenue and other areas around the Penn State campus, tearing down light poles, chanting Paterno's name and even overturning a television news van.
Their actions displayed a juvenile lack of judgment and utter disregard for the victims and their families. The protestors were an embarrassment to themselves, their university and college students around the country.
Their allegiance to Paterno is understandable; the man is a champion, a statesmen and an icon. He is Penn State. The protestors, however, blinded by their love for Paterno or perhaps more realistically, blinded by their love to party, looked foolish and ignorant in the process.
Granted, Joe Paterno is probably the greatest college coach of all time and technically he did complete his legal duty by reporting a 2002 incident of sexual abuse to Penn State athletic director Tim Curley. Still, Paterno in no way, shape or form fulfilled his moral duties as a coach, as a leader, as a parent and as a human being. Children were raped. Under those circumstances there are absolutely no excuses for lack of further action.
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that, "A time comes when silence is betrayal."
Paterno betrayed his university, his fans and most importantly the victims. If he really did everything in his power to eradicate the abuse that was taking place, perhaps his storybook career would have had a more pleasant ending. At the very least, we would have had this conversation a lot sooner.
Please don't get me wrong; this isn't at all about Paterno and it shouldn't be. This isn't about Spanier nor Curley either, nor is it about former graduate assistant Mike McQueary, who initially reported Sandusky's actions to Paterno. No, this is about Sandusky and the lives he ruined, the lives that now litter all 23 disturbing pages of the grand jury report, the lives that will never be the same.
The riots that took place last week, however, were about Paterno. They were about his legacy and a football program, not about the victims. So don't confuse the facts. This isn't some propaganda campaign out to ruin an 84-year-old man. Don't blame the media. Instead, blame those individuals who stood on the sideline while young boys were being abused or better yet, blame the monster that did it.
Whatever you do, don't make excuses to save Joe Paterno. His career no longer matters. Don't make excuses to save Penn State football. Their program no longer matters. Inaction fosters injustice. A group of young boys now know that all too well, and that is what matters.
With that said, Penn State is a large institution and only a small minority of the 44,000 undergraduates actually rioted. Most students remained inside, perhaps even to pray for the victims. There were also candlelit vigils and touching moments of silent prayer before the university's football game on Nov. 12. For that the students should be commended.
One day, I hope the Penn State students who did protest in the aftermath of Joe Paterno's firing would realize how foolish they looked. After all, college is a time to make mistakes and then learn from them. It's just a shame that their mistake had to unfold in front of a national audience, and above all in front of the victims and their families.