The sports pages, and some front pages, are in black today for Joe Paterno, one of the most successful and beloved coaches in college football. He has died of lung cancer, aged 85. Paterno’s last years were marred by the discovery that his close associate and defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, was charged with child sex offences.
‘How was I to know?’ said Paterno. ‘I never came across something like that before.’ They fired him, anyway. Some said today that Paterno died of a broken heart.
There are similarities with the firing of Ben Zander, though not exact parallels. Zander knew his videographer had served time for a sex offence. He believed the man to be rehabilitated – and there is no suggestion that he offended again at any time at NEC or in the last 20 years. Zander was fired anyway. At 72, his epitaph will forever be clouded by this episode.
Like Paterno, he was naive and innocent of wrongdoing. Without in any way mitigating the monstrous crime of sexual abuse of children, the punishment inflicted on these men is disproportionate to their foolish misjudgements. And in Zander’s case, it appears NEC had fired him before it had the sex excuse. NEC president Tony Woodcock refuses to answer questions on this issue.