The speech Joe Paterno should have given

10 November 2011

Today I have resigned from my position as head coach of Penn State’s football program because I am ashamed of myself.

I have been ashamed of myself for not acting in the Jerry Sandusky case for nearly ten years, after half-heartedly directing a witness—a young assistant coach who looked to me for guidance—to talk to the university’s athletic director about what he had seen. I never suggested he speak to the police instead; I never followed up. I put my head in the sand, and at least eight helpless boys were molested by this man.

As I look back, I have asked myself time and again why I felt it necessary to protect my program and the school rather than those children. In retrospect, I can only express shame and humiliation that I elected to act in this way.

I have also dwelled extensively on the question of how I’d feel if my son or daughter had been molested in this way by a trusted authority figure, and how I’d feel about the friends and colleagues who protected such a man.

Some Penn State fans may protest and argue that I should not leave my position. But I insist you are mistaken in your loyalty to me and to our football program. Please allow me the small dignity of accepting my responsibility with humility.

Some may question whether I feel my responsibility too heavily, whether my decision to resign is too extreme given my distance from the case. After all, we live in a culture in which powerful men regularly deny responsibility for their actions. Whether it is fraudulent traders on Wall Street, Catholic priests who transferred pedophilic priests from one position to the next, managers and bosses who sexually harass female or gay employees, and college football players whose rape charges disappear under community pressure on the victims, we see men every day in the news who reject all culpability. But let us also turn the spotlight on those men’s supervisors and bosses, who regularly claim to be innocent by virtue of not having committed those crimes themselves.

I refuse to be one of those men.

I knew that Sandusky had behaved inappropriately toward a young boy, and I did nothing to stop it. I passed the buck to someone who likewise did nothing. To my shame, I told myself this might be an isolated incident, and I permitted my respect for him as a friend to overwhelm my responsibility to these children and my community. My behavior defies all reason, all consideration of human rights. I behaved like a coward, and I made it possible for him to continue committing those crimes.

Some members of the public have been quite frank in expressing their disgust with me and my colleagues. I am in complete agreement with you. I accept your rage, and can only assure you that I hold a lower opinion of myself than you do.

Men like me have many privileges, but with those come important responsibilities. We do a profound disservice to our fellow citizens and colleagues when we insist, above all, on our “right” to those privileges and only a passing familiarity with our responsibilities. I have come face to face with my own deeply troubling failures in this regard after sublimating those thoughts for nearly ten years.

I am not proud to say this as I stand before you today, but I am saying things that need to be said, for these things are true. No longer do I seek to protect myself, my colleagues, my football program, or my university. This is no gesture—I am not “falling on my sword,” as some might put it. Leaving a job I love appears to me to be, truly, the very least I can do. I urge you to let me resign to express my willingness to repent for my own crimes of omission, so I may engage in community service to make amends, and so I might seek forgiveness in my own way. Thank you.

4 Responses to “The speech Joe Paterno should have given”

  1. servetus Says:

    If only.

    It also makes me sick about universities. It seems to me that the university acted all along only to minimize its liability, not to stop the abuse.

    Not to be crass, but you can now include Paterno’s remarks in your relevant class.

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