04:10 - Source: CNN
Joe Paterno to resign at end of season

Story highlights

Roxanne Jones is a proud Penn State alum, former Nittany Lions cheerleader

Penn State sports had squeaky-clean reputation; Jones defended it through thick or thin

Jones: Coach Joe Paterno must step down, it is inexcusable he did not tell authorities

If this is true, it is far worse than any infractions seen at other universities, she writes

Editor’s Note: Roxanne Jones is a founding editor of ESPN The Magazine and a former VP at ESPN. She is a national lecturer on sports, entertainment and women’s topics. She is the author of “Say It Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete” (Random House). She is CEO of Push Marketing Group.

CNN —  

We are … Penn State.

I cannot recount the thousands of times that I have proudly proclaimed that chant throughout the years. I belted it out as a Penn State cheerleader, later as a proud alum standing in Beaver Stadium among nearly 100,000 raucous fans, and more recently on Saturday afternoons sitting solo in my TV room watching my Nittany Lions roar in those classic no-name jerseys.

Those words still give me goosebumps nearly 20 years after I left State College, Pennsylvania, lovingly called Happy Valley. Looking down from my perch on other colleges over the past decade, I’ve watched major programs crumble as their dirty little secrets were revealed. And through all those college scandal headlines – paying players, inflating SAT scores, falsifying classroom grades – I have held Penn State up as a shining example of all that is good and right and pure about college sports.

We are the good guys.

Roxanne Jones

We have Joe Paterno.

We are … Penn State.

But today, I’m putting my pompoms down. I’m done covering up Happy Valley’s secrets. And it’s time for others in the program, starting with Coach Paterno, to do the same thing. And then, Joe has got to go, immediately.

That is the only real alternative after the shocking allegations that Jerry Sandusky, 67 – a former assistant coach who worked with the program for more than 30 years and who was viewed by many as Paterno’s heir before he retired in 1999 – has been charged with multiple felonies in the alleged sexual abuse of eight boys during a 15-year period. Prosecutors now expect that more boys will come forward with abuse claims.

Before this week, I’d argued that Jo Pa should coach until he takes his last breath. He’d earned it.

This year, Penn State tied with Stanford for the top graduation success rate among teams ranked in the October 30 Bowl Championship Series and AP Top 25 rankings, according to the NCAA. During his 46-year tenure, Paterno has had 47 Academic All-Americans, with 37 earning first-team honors.

I made excuses for Penn State in 2007 when the women’s basketball coach, Renee Portland, quit after the university was sued over her “no lesbians on the team” policy. Portland, who had coached at the university for 27 years, was accused of bullying and humiliating one of her young players because she believed the girl was a lesbian. Portland’s homophobic views were well-known on the team. Still, I reasoned that she was just a rogue coach, an anomaly at the school. Surely, her brand of bigotry was not the norm. Right?

And I even defended Penn State after my own ugly experience with discrimination, when an adviser for the cheerleading squad tried to force me to quit the team after I was elected by my peers as the first African-American captain.

It wasn’t the only racial hatred I’d experienced at the school. In the late ’80s, it was routine to find the campus littered with leaflets from the local Ku Klux Klan telling us blacks to “Go back to Africa.” Sometimes the writer even drew a nice little noose on the fliers. But I stayed at the school, kept cheering on my Nittany Lions. I was proud to be there. Plus, I reasoned that my struggles there would prepare me for the real world.

Now, I’ve run out of excuses.

According to a grand jury report, Paterno back in 2002 was informed by a grad assistant that he had seen former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky naked and forcing a boy who appeared to be about 10-years-old to have anal sex in the showers of the school’s sports complex. Paterno reportedly told his boss, Athletic Director Tim Curley, but it’s unclear whether the coach did anything further to follow up on the shocking report.

And incredibly no one, Paterno or his superiors, reported this alleged incident to the authorities. Those of us who have been on campus find it a joke that Coach Paterno would now say that he reported the incident to his bosses. What bosses? Everyone knows Paterno had as much or more power on that campus than anyone to make things happen, including the president.

It’s absolutely unforgivable if Paterno did nothing but pass the information up the chain. In fact, even after this incident was reported, Sandusky still had the keys to the complex and free rein to bring boys he mentored at his nonprofit foundation, the Second Mile, to visit the campus and hang out around the sports facility.

If these allegations are proven true, this scandal is far worse than anything that’s happened at other universities. Exploiting dozens and raping young boys could never compare to the minor infractions of boosters buying a car for a player or a player selling his autographed football jersey for a few bucks.

Now, as I look back at my years at Penn State and realize that some of these alleged incidents were possibly taking place as I was a student there proudly waving my pompoms, I feel sick.

We are … Penn State. And we are ashamed.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roxanne Jones.