GIRLFRIEND OF THE WEEK: Vicky Triponey Took on Paterno and Nearly Lost Everything

I grew up surrounded by strong women who spoke their mind, was impossible to manipulate and believed that doing what was right was non-negotiable. Those character traits, especially for a woman in the work place, is frowned upon. Unfortunately, for me, Vicky Triponey and women like us, pretending to be otherwise is impossible.

Triponey was head of student affairs at Penn State. That kind of responsibility requires someone who is honest, committed and unwavering. She was all of those things and people respected her and appreciated her approach to the students. That is, until 2007 when she insisted that several Penn State players be suspended after a brawl left one young man unconscious. Paterno didn’t agree. Mrs. Paterno was the first to approach Triponey to mitigate disciplinary action.  It didn’t have any affect. She continued to push for an appropriate form of  punishment. In the middle of this issue, Paterno publicly called her out, according to CNN, “Paterno ridiculed her on a radio show as ‘that lady in Old Main’ who couldn’t possibly know how to handle students because ‘she didn’t have kids.'”

Ironically, Paterno did have children and grand-children, yet we now know based on the Freeh report that it did nothing to motivate him to get rid of Sandusky, especially with his male minions doing anything to make JoePa happy. On the contrary, Triponey was summarily dismissed, but not before she was harassed and threatened, “She received threatening phone calls at home when her husband was traveling and was savaged on student message boards. Her house was vandalized and ‘For Sale’ signs were staked in her front yard. By the time police installed surveillance cameras, she was already on her way out.”

When she left, her reputation was in shambles and her self-esteem no doubt crushed. Five years later, it would take women to bring down Sandusky. The Freeh report places blame for Sandusky’s predatory behavior on the university and Paterno. Today, students continue to sing his praises, believing that he did what was necessary and it was everyone else that dropped the ball.

In her interview with CNN, Triponey suggests that Paterno was an “incredibly principled man.” I suppose even with principles, one’s character can be shoddy. Paterno’s family plans to have their own independent investigation. Doubtful that it will make much difference. All one needs is common sense to know that Paterno did nothing to stop a predator from preying on “other people’s children.”

Triponey refuses to gloat or feel vindicated. It must be nice though to see the power of karma at work, but even that leaves a hollow feeling knowing what young, fatherless boys endured at the hands of a monster.

So for all the Vicky Triponey’s out there, your GIRLFRIENDS salute you and we are sending lots of love. It’s not easy being a woman with character, sometimes it can be downright painful, but it’s the Vicky’s of the world that we will always remember. She took on a giant that crushed her, but only for a moment. Women like Vicky don’t break. She gathered all the pieces of herself, put them back together and never looked back.

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.” – Anne Lamott (1954), American novelist.