He grew up not far from Happy Valley and some of his earliest memories are of going to Penn State football games. He can remember the great Ernie Davis running the ball for Syracuse. He saw how proud his father was of Joe Paterno because they shared the same Italian heritage.

I called this former Maine high school football coach and retired high school administrator Thursday to ask how he was doing in light of the terrible allegations of child rape and abuse in the Penn State football facilities. Paterno had been fired the day before, accused of knowing of a former colleague’s acts and not doing more to prevent further abuse.

The man I’ve known for 30 years wouldn’t let me interview him. He said he was very, very torn by what he was reading on the Internet, from news accounts to the state district attorney’s report. He said he was concerned that people would misconstrue his feelings and that he was just one of the leaves he could see falling outside his window.

His heart breaks for the children who are always the most vulnerable and who were victimized. He has grown children who have given him and his wife grandchildren. Parents don’t need a lot of imagination to feel a child’s fear and loss of innocence. Can you understand helplessness while in the hands of an adult?

His heart hurts for an 84-year-old football coach who was one of the few heroes left. Joe Paterno had stood for what is good and right about sports, football especially. He stands for a lot less today.

When told that Jerry Sandusky and a young boy were discovered alone in a shower near the football offices, Paterno pushed the information upstairs to the athletic director. That was in 2002. Officially, Paterno did nothing more.

What’s the use of accumulating so much clout and influence if you don’t use it? Forget criminal law for a moment. Paterno represented moral law and he failed to act on it.

I don’t completely buy that he was acting selfishly to protect Penn State football and his legacy as college football’s winningest coach. Sandusky was a friend and a trusted colleague. Maybe a confidant. Do you turn in your brother, or do you go into denial and hope it becomes someone else’s decision?

At Penn State, someone else didn’t step up for years. So there were more victims.

“With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more,” said Paterno. Sorry, but that’s a lot of years of not looking back, of not wanting to know.

Mike McQueary, the young graduate assistant who saw Sandusky molest a child and told Paterno, didn’t do more. Many times coaches are surrogate fathers to players. McQueary was a former Penn State player. It would have taken courage to do more. He didn’t have it.

The former high school football coach spent a career teaching his children, players and students to do the right thing even when it’s most difficult. Joe Paterno stood for the right thing, and that he didn’t or couldn’t tears at all of us.

I am used to walking into mom and pop businesses near my home when I run errands. It’s an easy excuse to talk Red Sox, Patriots or University of Maine football and hockey. I hear cheers and I hear rants. Game time beer-drinking and questionable player moves. Last-minute victories and third-period meltdowns.

Thursday I heard disbelief. How could this happen? Why did good people do too little or nothing?

Penn State isn’t in another time zone or on the other side of the map. It was big-time football to many in Maine. Joe Paterno had many admirers here. He was the best.

The heroes, the best among us know when to act and how to get things done. This one didn’t.

 

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at [email protected]

Twitter: SteveSolloway