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Coutinho: Joe Paterno Must Step Down

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Head coach Joe Paterno of the Penn State Nittany Lions (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Head coach Joe Paterno of the Penn State Nittany Lions (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

By Rich Coutinho
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When the Penn State story broke this weekend, I was shocked to hear what had happened, but in the last 48 hours as the horrific details continue to filter out, I can only think of the children that were abused and how their lives were taken from them. Think about all the things we took for granted as kids with safety at the top of the list. And these children may never feel safe again – no matter what happens.

Related: Sweeny: Tough To Be Proud To Be A Penn Stater

But the thing that really angers me is that there was not one adult that put the children’s safety first. You know what they put first? The Program, football, wins, and the Nittany Lion legacy and that is why Joe Paterno should be asked to resign and if he refuses, the locks need to be changed on his office door. According to the Grand Jury documents, eight children were abused by Jerry Sandusky, but how many more are afraid to come forward because they were threatened? The testimony infers that children were taken on trips by the coach and if they did not comply with his request, they would be punished by being sent home.

The fact that in 2002 Sandusky severed ties with Paterno and Penn State and never got as much as a passing interest from another school should have been a red flag for everyone involved. It makes me think other schools heard the rumors and stayed as far away from him as possible. That is understandable for those schools, but for Penn State to look the other way and allow Sandusky to have access to the campus and bring young boys to practice as recently as 2007 is difficult to comprehend. Many people theorize Sandusky was revered in Happy Valley but my point here is a simple one — Joe Paterno is the one person in this program that carried more clout than Sandusky and he could have pulled the plug here. Instead of doing that, he passed the buck by merely telling his superiors about it. Paterno could have demanded that more be done here and that is why he has blood on his hands as well.

And then there is the graduate assistant who witnessed a crime being committed in the shower of the locker room. All I can say is a reasonable person should have pulled that child to safety instead of waiting to tell his superiors. Every human being has a responsibility in this case to protect a defenseless child who is being molested by a predator. But even if he was unsure what to do, what happened when he told his superiors? They tried to sweep it under the rug and looked the other way. Disgraceful.

The DA said in her press conference this is not about a university or a football program and she was right. But in a sense, the Penn State football program is in question here as well. They had a responsibility to come forward and help. They had a responsibility to tell the authorities the truth–especially when being deposed by the Grand Jury. And for crying out loud, they had a responsibility to do all this so future children would not be molested.

The NCAA spends countless hours investigating whether a football player getting a tattoo for free constitutes a violation but in reality, the Penn State case is bigger than anything we’ve seen in recent years. Bigger than anything at USC, Miami, or Ohio State. And for that reason alone, both Joe Paterno and the University President should step down TODAY. All this happened on their watch, and in my opinion, they let it continue to happen. Firing them will NEVER get these children’s’ lives back but it may encourage other victims to come forward in this case or in other cases.

The future of our children is the most valuable commodity we have in society and it trumps everything else — BCS standings, win and losses, national championships, or Joe Paterno’s legacy. And the sad thing about this is all the things I just mentioned were placed at a higher value than the children. The actions of the people in charge at Happy Valley illustrate that point. And to say Joe Paterno did what the law said he should do is nonsense. Common decency tells us he should have done so much more.

Terrible story. Who should be punished and how?

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