HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – Along with the rest of the country, legendary former Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden has watched the horror surrounding the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal at Penn State. Paterno and Bowden became close friends while Bowden coached at West Virginia and Paterno was an assistant coach at Penn State, and closely competed for over 40 years for the greatest number of wins in college football history. Paterno ultimately won that competition, but his legacy is no longer defined by his success as a coach.
According to the 267-page report released Thursday by former FBI director Louis Freeh, Joe Paterno’s role in the cover up of Penn State’s sex abuse scandal was much greater than originally anticipated. The report states that Paterno actively worked with Penn State President Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley, and vice president Gary Schultz to conceal information aboutSandusky’s child molestation and avoid damaging the university’s reputation. Emails and handwritten notes show that Paterno closely followed the allegations against Sandusky, and even dissuaded Spanier, Schultz, and Curley from contacting the state Department of Child Welfare after Sandusky molested his second victim in 2001.
“It’s a case of a guy making a terrible mistake,” said Bowden in an interview with SportsRadio 610 in Houston. “It was bad, nasty, shocking, but it did happen.”
Forgiveness for Paterno has been hard to come by recently, but Bowden personally understands the pressure that comes with building a legacy as a legendary football coach, and coping with the consequences of scandal within an athletic program.
In 2009, Bowden had 12 career wins erased over an academic fraud scandal in which over 60 student athletes at Florida State cheated on an online music history course. The severity of the sanctions against Florida State ultimately led to Bowden’s dismissal from the university, even though he was unaware that some of his athletes were cheating. Bowden recognizes that his termination was necessary, but also that the scandal remains a stain on his iconic career.
Bowden can empathize with Paterno’s plight. After all, Paterno supported him during the Florida State scandal. But Bowden’s crime in the scandal at Florida State was ignorance, not complacency or conspiracy. The Penn State leadership was wrong, and the consequences for Paterno’s reputation will be far more severe.
The information in the Freeh report has already led many people, including Bowden, to call for the removal of Paterno’s statue outside Beaver Stadium. Paterno will forever be a part of Penn State, but to Bowden, removing the statue is the only way to support his old friend and rival.
“I can’t condemn the kind of life that Joe Paterno lived by what happened on this event.” Said Bowden. “but [Paterno’s accomplishments] are tarnished because of what happened… Every time you mention the name of Penn State or we see the statue we’re not going to think about the 60 good years he had, we’ll think about that tragic thing with Sandusky.”
“I don’t know what Joe was thinking when he let this thing slide by … but I can still appreciate Joe about the good things he did.”