Last night, university officials at Penn State University fired University President Graham Spanier and beloved head football coach Joe Paterno in the wake of the child molestation scandal that has rocked the campus.

Earlier this week, news broke that former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky  was charged with 40 counts of sexual abuse of eight children, which included an allegation that he raped  a 10-year-old boy in a locker room shower.

Coach Paterno was apparently made aware of the rape in 2002 and informed the university’s athletic director, but did not call the police or revoke his former assistant’s privileges. Instead, Sandusky was allowed to continue to have access to the athletic facilities–including the locker rooms–even after he retired in 1999.

After retiring from the Penn State football team in 1999, Sandusky ran a sports program for at-risk youth. It was through this non-profit program that Sandusky allegedly molested and raped at least eight young boys (although as many as 17 have now come forward). According to the Los Angeles Times, Sandusky was charged with “multiple counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, corruption of minors, endangering the welfare of a child, indecent assault and unlawful contact with a minor, as well as single counts of aggravated indecent assault and attempted indecent assault.”

When the media first learned of Sandusky’s charges and Paterno’s failure to act, many called for the 84-year-old head coach to step down. Paterno agreed to retire at the end of the season, but last night, university trustees fired him.

Emotions were mixed. Many students supported the firing of ‘Joe Pa,” the school’s beloved football patron, citing solidarity with the victims, but others were angry at the news. After the hearing of his ouster, several students took to the streets, clashed with police and even turned over a news van.

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While I watched the students chant, “We want Joe!” I wondered why the victims--many of them reportedly African American boys (now men)–weren’t receiving the same amount of support. Presumably, the same forces that kept the scandal under wraps all these year–preserving a storied football program–were also at work last night when the students demanded Paterno stay on as head coach despite knowing that children were being molested in his locker room.

Is football THAT important that we are willing to overlook the rape of young boys in order to protect a program?

I’d like to think we’re better than that, but cases like this always make me wonder.

What are your thoughts on the case? Should those who knew about the molestation but didn’t act to protect the boys be charged as well?

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