The facts are still coming out about the abuse scandal at Penn State, but based on what is known, Joe Paterno should leave the university immediately. He has lost a key element of what built his reputation--his moral authority.
It pains me because I've been a big fan of his. I was born in Philadelphia and lived there in my early years. I celebrated this season when Joe Pa became the coach with the most wins--409.
But Paterno has failed the litmus test we apply when evaluating a response in crisis communications--the reasonable person test. What would a reasonable person have done on learning the facts that Paterno was given?
The eyewitness allegedly came upon Jerry Sandusky, retired assistant coach, abusing a 10-year-old boy in the locker room shower. At the moment there is a dispute as to whether Paterno got all that detail. It doesn't matter. If all Paterno heard was that Sandusky was in the shower with the boy, his response should not have been to just call his boss and report this and move on.
Thus, the test. What would a reasonable person have done? Call the police, pull the child out, follow-up until the case was handled by authorities. Any or all of these would have been better responses than what Paterno, which was not much better than nothing.
And the truth is that the reasonable person standard is not enough to apply to Paterno because he built his storied reputation on the foundation of moral integrity, of not just winning, but winning the right way. Of doing the right thing. Paterno has served as a moral role model for thousands of athletes and students and should be held to the higher standard he established.
As I write this, Paterno has announced he will retire at the end of the season. That's a good try, but I doubt that he will be coaching by Saturday, if the Trustees handle this the way they should.
Paterno has lost the heart of his reputation--his moral authority.
So Joe must go. Now.