Making Sense of Penn State

Everyone is quick to damn Joe Paterno.  This makes no sense to me.  Everyone loves Michael Jackson.  It was the worst thing to ever happen when he died.  His doctor deserved to rot in jail for his part in it.  Everyone conveniently forgot that Mr. Jackson was the one touching the kids.  Joe Paterno never once laid hands on any of the alleged victims here.  In fact I would venture to say he probably doesn’t even remember seeing them.

What is hard to stomach is that Joe Paterno was a coach dedicated to the true purpose of college football.  His players graduated.  His players didn’t take money.  His program was clean.  The entire athletic department had never been found guilty of an NCAA violation.  Yet coaches like Lane Kiffin, John Calipari, Nick Saban, Mack Brown they all get to keep their jobs despite putting winning before the rules and even worse academics.  Those coaches chew their players up, get what they want out of them, tell them they will go pro so class doesn’t matter (even though a majority won’t), don’t prepare them for life after sports.  JoePa not only put his players first, but in doing so he was successful.  That is not something you see in college sports today.

Today you win by buying the best junior college QB.  You win by having someone take the SAT for your star recruit so he can remain eligible.  You win by paying the mortgage of you running back’s parents’ house.  Then you split town when as soon as trouble shows up leaving the school to pay for your crimes.  Paterno not only played within the rules, but he did it with steadfast loyalty and success.  And how did the Penn State trustees repay him: a phone call telling him he was fired.  All as a knee jerk reaction to public misconception.

Judging from 90% of the statuses on Facebook, most people did not know the facts of this story.  Most people believed that Joe was standing there watching as his defensive coordinator did unspeakable things to children.  That simply is not true.  Joe Paterno was told by a graduate assistant of suspicious behavior of a former employee.  He did not witness anything.  He is not the police.  His job is to coach football.  He told his superiors the information he was told.  Those two men were the ones who failed to act.  Those two men were the ones who decided to cover it up.  Not Joe Paterno.

Can you make the case that Paterno should have done more?  Yes, of course.  It is easy to sit back almost 10 years later and say he made a mistake.  And that is where the tragedy is: one mistake brings what should be considered a shining model of how to be a college coach crashing down as some sort of devil.  One instance of not doing quite enough is enough to destroy a man’s otherwise spotless legacy.

For 46 years Paterno did things the right way.  That kind of loyalty and success is unprecedented.  I am not saying that he should have kept his job; I am simply saying that he is being treated totally unfairly.  If anything his resume earned him the benefit of the doubt to at least be told in person he was getting let go, if not let him finish the season out.

I guess Harvey Dent got it right: you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.



2 thoughts on “Making Sense of Penn State

  1. This wasn’t just a “former employee” It was a man who had an office in the athletic dept, keys to all the athletic buildings, and basically unlimited access to the football program, the football program that was controlled by Joe Paterno. If he was truly this paragon of leadership and morality that you equivocators are claiming him to be, he would have actually taken action. Simply doing the bare minimum that is required of him in his position is not doing the right thing. Simply telling his “boss” (who was one of his former players) and then never following up on the issue is not doing the right thing. Allowing a man, who you know has been seen doing horrible things to children in your football team locker room, to continue to have access to your facilities and bring children around your program is not doing the right thing.
    Paterno and McQueary both had either direct knowledge or constructive knowledge of what was going on with Sandusky, the fact that neither took positive steps to stop it and prevent it from happening again shows their moral cowardice.
    Winning football games does not make a person a leader, not getting caught breaking the rules of the NCAA does not make Joe Paterno a role model. Not stopping the rape and abuse of numerous little boys when they had the opportunity does make all those at Penn State who were complicit a fine example of what is wrong with society today. After all there are millions of dollars and a football teams reputation on the line; it’s obviously better to pass the buck to another than to stand up and risk speaking out against one of your own.

    • JDM,

      Thank you for your feedback, I really appreciate it. I am not saying that Joe Paterno did the right thing here. I am not saying he shouldn’t lose his job. I am merely commenting on how this man is going to be remembered for the wrong thing when he has done such good for football, especially college football. What does not sit well with me is that this seems like a knee jerk reaction to public pressure by the board of trustees, and they fired him with a late night phone call. Paterno gave that university 46 years of service and has done so much for the Happy Valley community that he deserved a better sending off than a bunch of suits covering their own tails. He deserved a full investigation into his role, focused on the truth, not the rumors that the press is flinging around. If that meant he should be fired, do it to the man’s face.

      I also can’t make sense of the fact that McQueary, the man with the first hand knowledge, is still on the staff. The easy answer is that he did his job in passing the information to Paterno. But if that is the excuse, then why did Paterno get fired? He did his job, he passed the information along to those whose job it was to regulate who had access to the program and the facilities. This further lends to my belief that Paterno is just as much a scapegoat as a man in the wrong.

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