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Originally published November 8, 2011 at 10:00 PM | Page modified November 9, 2011 at 12:46 PM

Steve Kelley

Joe Paterno must speak up, then leave Penn State

Sex scandal will be football coach's legacy.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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Maybe Penn State football coach Joe Paterno will speak Wednesday.

Maybe he will be honest with us and tell us how much he knew about the allegations of sexual abuse of boys against his former defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky. And maybe he will tell us when he knew about those allegations.

Maybe he will explain why he didn't immediately call the police in 2002 when then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary said he told Paterno he had witnessed Sandusky having sex in the shower with a boy who was about 10 years old. Paterno needs to tell us why there was no follow-up.

And maybe he will explain why he didn't ban Sandusky from the university's athletic facilities after McQueary presented this damning evidence to him.

Joe Paterno needs to explain himself.

And then, after 46 years as Penn State's head coach, Paterno needs to leave, because it is becoming increasingly clear that he chose to protect his beloved university and its mammoth football program instead of attempting to protect disadvantaged children who were being placed in harm's way.

Nothing prepared us for this.

All of the filth we've had to wade through in college football — the runaway lawlessness at Ohio State, the unchecked abuses at Miami, the sanctions levied against USC and the NCAA investigations at other longtime football powerhouses — none of it prepared us for the shocking revelations that continue to ooze from the wounded campus at Penn State.

Sandusky has been charged with 40 counts related to the sexual abuse of young boys. He was charged with abusing eight boys over a 15-year period. A ninth male came forward Tuesday.

This is as bad as it gets, as bad as it ever has gotten, in college football. It is transcendent, more than a sports story. It is a national tragedy.

And it all happened under Paterno's watch.

Too many people, it appears, knew too much and did too little about Sandusky, who retired after the 1999 season. By its silence, Penn State's self-protecting old boys' network put young boys in grave danger.

It's crazy to think this place has been called Happy Valley. For a group of underprivileged kids, the Penn State campus was the most frightening place on the planet.

We need to hear from Paterno, whose regularly scheduled Tuesday news conference was canceled by the university. He has to give his side of the story, whether it's a mea culpa, or a glib rationalization.

"Their inaction likely allowed a child predator to continue to victimize children for many, many years," Pennsylvania attorney general Linda Kelly said this week.

We need to know why Paterno decided before the 1999 season that Sandusky, the defensive genius behind "Linebacker U" and supposed heir apparent, wouldn't be his successor.

Coaches at Penn State tend to stay a lifetime. One coach has been there 34 years, another 33 and another played for Penn State in 1960 and '61. So, why did Sandusky leave in '99?

I want to feel sorry for 84-year-old Joe Paterno. I want to feel empathy for him. In this runaway era of cheating, he kept his program clean.

He had one of the highest graduation rates of any football factory. He has given tens of millions of dollars to the university and he has positively influenced the lives of thousands of at-risk children.

He took me to lunch when I was a cub of a sportswriter working in York, Pa., in the early 1970s and told great stories and made me feel as if I were as important as the Los Angeles Times' Jim Murray.

But I can't feel sorry for Paterno. He isn't the victim. The sorrow is for the boys whose lives, according to the indictment against Sandusky, were severely damaged by the actions of one evil man and the inactions of so many others.

It appears Paterno chose to ignore all of the warning signals and the eyewitness accounts. It appears he chose to protect the reputation of Penn State instead of protecting the safety of vulnerable boys.

And despite the 409 wins, and the two national championships, his role in the disgrace of his program will be his legacy. That shame shadows all of the successes.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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