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Joe Paterno was a coward

By Roland S. Martin, CNN Contributor
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Sun July 15, 2012
Penn State coach Joe Paterno, shown during a game in October 2011.
Penn State coach Joe Paterno, shown during a game in October 2011.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Roland Martin: Penn State report reveals Joe Paterno as a coward
  • He says coach's silence on Sandusky sex abuse to protect reputation makes him complicit
  • He says while Paterno had eye on breaking coaching record, young boys were being raped
  • Martin: Penn State should strip campus of markers of Paterno's reign. He was a failed coach

Editor's note: Roland S. Martin is a syndicated columnist and author of "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House." He is a commentator for the TV One cable network and host/managing editor of its Sunday morning news show, "Washington Watch with Roland Martin."

(CNN) -- After years and years of over-the-top stories attesting to the character, honor, integrity and moral fiber of the late Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno, we now know, after reading the 267-page Penn State internal report on child predator Jerry Sandusky, that Paterno was nothing more than a narcissistic, arrogant coward.

The report by former FBI director Louis Freeh details the shameful conduct of top officials at Penn State, including Paterno, who cared more about negative publicity than young boys being scarred for life.

"The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized," the report concluded.

Roland Martin
Roland Martin

Imagine that. For 14 years they were silent and complicit in Sandusky's sexual abuse. For 14 years Paterno, President Graham Spanier, Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz could have picked up the phone to call the cops and tell what they knew about Sandusky sexually assaulting young boys. But they didn't. All they cared about was negative attention and how it might reflect on the program and the university.

Please, don't bother with the petty justifications, rationalizations and calls to look forward instead of back. How can any man or woman, Penn State alum or not, stomach even hearing Paterno's name or seeing his face after reading how he played an integral role in covering up the vile and evil sexual misdeeds of his former defensive coordinator?

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Paterno was treated like a saint in Happy Valley; in some quarters, he was a little "g" god. He was the man above reproach. He had more power than any other official on campus; possibly in the state. He's famous for saying he stayed in coaching because had he left, "it would leave college football in the hands of the Jackie Sherrills and Barry Switzers," two coaches known for their winning ways, and for breaking NCAA rules along the way.

But Paterno didn't break NCAA rules in covering up for his buddy Sandusky, and allowing the coach a clear field to wreak havoc on the lives of numerous young men. What Paterno did break was the moral code that every man and woman should abide by.

Paterno family's statement on Freeh report

If Penn State officials or Pennsylvania politicians had any guts, they would strip the university bare of anything adorned with the name Joe Paterno. What his teams accomplished on the field is impressive, but no one can turn a blind eye to the failed leadership he exhibited off the field.

And as The New York Times detailed in a story Saturday, Paterno clearly sensed his reign coming to an end and decided to selfishly cash out. He lied repeatedly about his knowledge of Sandusky's sexual attacks, and did all he could to milk millions out of Penn State. I hope the families of the victims go after his estate for every penny and more.

Opinion: The end of JoePa University

By leaving his name on buildings and his statue up, decades from now people will hail his work on the field and not think about the devastation he allowed to happen off the field. If sports fans nationwide could heap scorn on Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens for allegedly taking steroids, then a special place in sports hell should be reserved for Paterno.

Football is nothing more than a game. But Sandusky raping young boys is a matter of life and death, of innocence lost.

In the aftermath of Sandusky's arrest, Paterno was treated as a victim, a man who was caught up in something he wasn't aware of. Now we know that was a lie.

Freeh produced the documents showing Paterno, his family and his legion of supporters lied in order to protect Paterno's name. All he cared about was breaking the all-time record set by Grambling State head coach Eddie Robinson.

Paterno, and the other Penn State lackeys, had to know that turning Sandusky in could prevent "JoePa" from breaking that record. So they all stayed silent, and all the while young boys suffered in their own silence.

When it's time to name the great coaches of college football, Robinson, Bear Bryant, Amos Alonzo Stagg and Knute Rockne will certainly be mentioned. Prior to the Freeh report, Paterno would have been on that list. But his actions in the Sandusky affair destroyed everything he accomplished in his career.

Great coaches make the tough calls. When Paterno failed to make the toughest call of his life -- to the police to turn in his longtime friend -- he did more than cost his team a victory. Young boys lost something they can never recover.

That's what cowards do, and Joe Paterno was a coward.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland Martin.

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