By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) Joe Paterno was never fired.
Don’t believe me? I’ll let Steve Garban, chair of the Penn State Board of Trustees, and John Surma, vice chairman of the Penn State Board of Trustees, tell you themselves:
“Coach Paterno remains employed by the University as a tenured faculty member,” they said in a statement released Thursday. “The details of his retirement are being worked out and will be made public when they are finalized. Generally speaking, the University intends to honor the terms of his employment contract and is treating him financially as if he had retired at the end of the 2011 football season.”
That’s right. Paterno is still getting paid. Penn State is still honoring his contract. And yes, they plan on sending him off into the sunset just like they would any other employee who retired after years of service to the university.
Yes, Joe Paterno was never fired.
On Wednesday, November 9, 2011, John Surma sat in front of a crowd of reporters and a group of fans who found their way into the room and said:
“The Board of Trustees and Graham Spanier have decided that, effective immediately, Dr. Spanier is no longer president of the University. Additionally, the board determined that it is in the best interest of the University for Joe Paterno to no longer serve as head football coach, effective immediately.”
The fans in the room gasped. Some reporters did too. The headlines were immediately written: “PATERNO FIRED”. The students rioted.
After 61 years at Penn State, the unthinkable had happened. Joe Paterno did not leave Penn State on his own terms. He had been fired.
Or so we thought.
As if no one would notice – and oddly, no one did – the Board of Trustees released their statement Thursday revealing that Paterno was still being paid as a faculty member and that the university intended to “honor the terms of his employment contract and is treating him financially as if he had retired at the end of the 2011 football season.”
In other words, Penn State didn’t fire him. They suspended him with pay for the rest of the season and now that the season is over, Paterno is willfully retiring.
You may recall that earlier on Nov. 9, Paterno announced he would retire at the end of the season, but would not step down immediately. It’s evident that from the time of that announcement, until Surma sat down in front of the microphone later, the Board of Trustees found a creative way of honoring that retirement while also satisfying the public calls for Paterno to never coach another game.
Read Surma’s words carefully. All he said was that Paterno would “no longer serve as head football coach, effective immediately.” He never used the word “terminated” or anything of that nature.
Yes, we were had.
So why is the Board of Trustees coming clean now? Well, they didn’t really mean to. Thursday’s release came as a result of criticism from Penn State alumni who feel Paterno was treated unfairly. The first sentence of the statement says:
“Many alumni have asked why the Board decided to remove Coach Paterno from his position as Head Football Coach.”
Yes, two months later, the Board still feels the need to explain why they removed Paterno and, quite frankly, the Penn State alumni still questioning that action should be embarrassed by the fact that the Board still has to do that.
Paterno knowingly allowed Penn State to be used as a vehicle for child rape. He failed to protect our children and he aided the cover up of the most heinous of acts by not telling authorities what he knew.
How do Paterno supporters not understand that?
Unfortunately they don’t. But even more unfortunate is that the Penn State Board of Trustees is still worried about this sentiment. Instead of realizing how ridiculous it is and letting those people soak in their own ignorance, they gave into the pressure and released a revealing statement intended to make Paterno supporters feel better.
In doing so, they assured them that Paterno was never fired.
And, as a result, the Penn State Board of Trustees proved that like the misguided Paterno supporters, they never felt like Paterno really should be punished. They simply gave into the public pressure to fire the longtime head coach, but instead of firing him, they created a clever way to make it look like they did when in reality all they did was sneak him peacefully out the back door.
I wonder how Jerry Sandusky’s victims – especially the post-2002 victims – feel knowing that instead of termination, Paterno simply received a four game suspension.
Nothing more than a slap on the wrist.
They used a band-aid when they needed stitches.
This is why Penn State University needs to be completely gutted. Not just the school president and the athletic department. Garban, Surma, every board member and any other person at Penn State with any sort of power needs to go. While publicly they are trying to paint a picture of change and remorse, internally all they are doing is trying save their own asses while protecting people like Paterno.
In other words, the Board has been playing both sides. They don’t care about the victims of child rape. They just want to make everyone happy.
In reality, all they are really doing is showing the world how the hell Penn State let this tragedy happen in the first place.
Adam is the Sports Content Producer for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the White Sox, Blackhawks and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.