Paterno, Football And The Catholic Church

By WGBH News

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Nov. 11, 2011


BOSTON — It can be hard for Bostonians to understand the loyalty to now-departed Penn. State coach Joe Paterno, in an area where college football is a religion — until they think about the abuse scandal in the Catholic church.

On the eve of Penn. State’s final home game of the season, one of college sports’ biggest scandals continues to unfold. For the first time in 60 years, the legendary Paterno will be watching the game from home. 

The university board of trustees has removed Paterno as well as the university president, Graham Spanier, over their handling of child sex abuse accusations involving now-retired defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who is accused of sexually abusing eight boys from 1994–2009.

"My heart aches for the victims and the families and my mind searches for answers," Penn. State interim president Rodney Erickson said at the opening of a meeting of the school's board of trustees Friday.

Paterno has issued a statement saying he's disappointed with the board's decision, but has accepted it. Students are having a more challenging time with the outcome. Police were forced to use pepper spray on some fans after they tore down lampposts and tipped over a news car.
 
One Penn. State student said, “I don't understand how they can do this to Penn. State in general. JoePa's been here so long."
 
The guests of “The Emily Rooney Show” on Nov. 11 boggled over the failure of the school to stop the abuse sooner, and over the fans’ continued support for Paterno. But it started to sound more familiar when they drew connections to the abuse that took place over decades closer to home.
   
"It's just like the Catholic church," said Boston Globe columnist Joanna Weiss of the allegations against Sandusky.

The so-called "religion" of football protected Sandusky, said Mariellen Burns of Regan Communications. “I think he just had all this cover, and anyone that knew that anything was going on, they sort of took a half step, you know, like in reporting it to the school, but they didn’t take that other step.”

And families might not be concerned about Sandusky's attentions, Weiss said, because "again, the analogy to the Catholic church, where the families thought ‘Wow, this priest is taking an interest in my son.’ It was a point of pride.”
  
They speculated that it might get worse. “The big question is: Is Penn. State alone? Is it just happening at Penn. State or is it like the Catholic Church where it happened not only in one archdiocese but all over the country?” said former Boston city councilor Tom Keane. “I think this is only the first step in what’s going to be a long story involving lots of campuses.”
 



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