I suppose eventually Joe Paterno will reveal what he was thinking when confronted with allegations of child rape by a graduate assistant in 1998. He claims he was only told of fondling and horseplay, but Mike McQueary (who has his own complicity to answer for) testified that he specifically mentioned anal rape.
At 84, it's conceivable that Paterno has learned to filter that effectively, to hear ugly truths as less-ugly euphemisms. We all learn coping mechanisms and for someone who both lived his life in a regimented, authoritarian organization (and led it for most of that time) as well as being a man who clearly spent a lot of time in church, another authoritarian patriarchal hierarchy, perhaps he's trained himself to ignore the underside of both.
Whatever. He got what was coming to him last night. His reaction, stunned disbelief, speaks to so many things about the psyche of the privileged that it would take a book by a psychologist to fully probe this reaction.
I honestly think he believed that, by offering to fall on his sword-- at his convenience, of course-- he could save himself the embarrassment of a firing. After all, there's only three games left in the regular season schedule and no Bowl would dare give Penn State a post-season bid now. Imagine the shock.
The trustees really had no choice: they have to deal in the real world, not the insular world of the spoiled. Those are the folks who have to go out and fund raise, and look donors in the eye and explain how a man could go three decades and do the bare minimum to protect the community at large. By taking swift and decisive action, they at least restore a little faith that the entire university ain't broken.
Paterno, Graham Spanier, McQueary, former athletic director Tim Curley, and former university vice president Gary Schultz will likely face criminal charges for at least perjury until the entire story is sorted out. Absolutely, they should (the Pennsylvania and United States Departments of Education have already announced inquiries into the matter.)
There are no sympathetic figures here. The best you can say is that some people did the bare minimum to comply with the law, but not with morals and conscience, and they had every opportunity to do more, but for whatever failing-- loyalty to a friend, ambition to rise in an organization, fealty to a university, fear, repulsion, perhaps even stunned silence reliving old memories of his childhood-- it is outrageous that this little boy and at least a half dozen others suffered for their silences.
Live with that image, gentlemen.