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Magic Johnson looks at Penn State's firing of Joe Paterno

November 10, 2011 | 12:16 pm

Magic Johnson offers some unique insight on Penn State's decision to fire Joe PaternoFinally, some clarity regarding Joe Paterno's firing.

It's been hard to shift through myth and fact as the football legend and the Penn State Athletic Department remained silent about the arrest and arraignment of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky in connection with alleged sexual abuse of children over 15 years.

Some Penn State students rioted after the school's Board of Trustees fired Paterno on Wednesday night, and greeted the coach at his house as if they were leading a pep rally. And more focus has centered on how grand jury testimony in the case could impact the Penn State program than how it might affect the alleged victims.

That's why it was refreshing to see Magic Johnson's tweet, which noted the good work Paterno had done through a storied 46-year career, but recognized the need for the coach to be held accountable for what authorities say was a failure to report Sandusky's alleged transgressions to the police.

"Coach Paterno is the winningest coach in college football, a hero & a champion. Thank you for all you did for football & the Big 10," Johnson tweeted. "He helped turn young men into champions & men. Penn State's Board of Trustees had to act swiftly & make a tough decision."

Before Penn State fans latch on to Johnson's intentions as being those of a Michigan State alum, consider Johnson's Monday news conference highlighting the 20th anniversary of his retirement after being diagnosed as HIV-positive.

The two situations may not be comparable, but the way Johnson and Penn State have addressed their controversies couldn't be more different. Penn State has hidden behind news-release statements, canceled a Paterno news conference and attempted to put the focus on football. Johnson has been open about his disease, despite any backlash he faced concerning his infidelities, his legacy or any stigma associated with the virus.

As somber as the 20th-anniversary event was at times, it was also celebratory because Johnson managed to make an overwhelmingly negative situation into something good, using his platform to spread awareness and raise funds for HIV treatment.

The allegations in the Sandusky case are deplorable, but Penn State still has an opportunity to deal with situation as best it can, notably taking steps to ensure proper child protection and greater accountability.

As someone who has demonstrated the need to hold himself accountable, it's perfectly appropriate for Johnson to address Penn State's situation. 

"I was speaking to Paterno as a coach not supporting his handling of the situation," Johnson tweeted. "He himself admitted that he wish he had done more. We must always protect our kids."


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-- Mark Medina

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Photo: Former Lakers coach Pat Riley gives Magic Johnson a bear hug Monday as the former Lakers guard discusses surviving with HIV for 20 years. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times