Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wrong is wrong, period! The end of the JoePa Era

The ouster of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno Wednesday night was totally expected, but it was still sad to see a venerable figure end his 61-year career in such disgrace. But the facts and allegations comprising the background for his firing are so heinous, and disgusting, no other outcome could reasonably be expected.
“Disgusting” probably sums up most of what college sports writers have been stating and scribing about the sexual assault allegations that happened at PSU over the last 12-13 years. Here was the coach, who presided over America’s “cleanest” program, the person who was the winningest college football coach of all-time, with statues in his honor all over the campus, who is suddenly seen as a pariah.
It’s a thin line between hero and pariah as Paterno’s story will attest. One mistake, one error of judgment will render your career as little more than dust for the Dyson to gather…and in Paterno’s case, it was self-inflicted.
It’s shocking to think that the accused coach, Jerry Sandusky, was to have been the successor to Paterno in the early 80s; everyone in college football knew, and understood, that. It is now unimaginable to think what would have happened if Sandusky was the man at the helm of the program … in a position of even MORE power and authority.
As it was, following his sudden 1999 resignation, Sandusky, through this foundation (Second Mile), maintain total access to the campus and facilities. Since when doesn’t gone mean “gone?” How could Paterno have allowed Sandusky continued access to young children having clearly known what he was told?
Frankly, looking at Sandusky taken into custody, handcuffed and escorted by two officers, I did not detect an ounce of remorse, sadness or disgrace on his face. Perhaps that’s reading too much into a few seconds of tape, but others caught in the same web try to hide from cameras or look like they are about to burst into tears. Sandusky’s face was just … blank.
This is MUCH worse than the shameful 1979 Liberty Bowl incident when Ohio State coach Woody Hayes was dismissed by the school after Hayes slugged Clemson linebacker Charlie Baumann in the waning moments of that game. It was a moment of loss sanity by a coach with a history of histrionics when losing (no one can forget the 1971 U-M-Ohio State game seeing Hayes’ shredding of yard markers after Thom Darden’s interception sealed a 10-7 Wolverine victory in the final seconds).
Still, it was a jaw-dropping moment to have watch on television; yet every person in America (including all Scarlet and Grey supporters) knew Hayes was toast; it didn’t linger.
That was a sudden shock to the system; at Penn State, it has been a lingering flesh-eating bacterium inside the very fabric of the program, rotting the insides away until exposed now. And the program, placed on a pedestal for never being cited by the NCAA for a single violation, is now the very symbol of evil in athletics – that one team, one program, one man could become bigger than an entire academic institution … and dismiss morality for the protection of that name, reputation and existence.
There are all sorts of unintended victims aside from the obvious – those sexually abused by this cretin. First, there are the current Nittany Lion players, who must trudge on with the season – one in which PSU has a legitimate (if not front-running) chance to earn a spot in the first Big 10 Conference championship game. Penn State leads the Leaders Division with a 5-0 mark, entering this Saturday’s home finale against Nebraska.
How will this team react without its coach? At what emotional level will they play? And then going forth knowing every motion, play or reaction will be under a worldwide microscope – not just the world of college football?
Hell, for that matter have a little sympathy for the visiting Cornhuskers who thought they just had to worry about 100,000 fans dressed in white and waving white towels in Beaver Stadium, and the possible adverse weather conditions. They instantly become everyone’s psychic enemy, the object of all ill will and hard feelings about that last five days. No oddsmaker in Vegas can factor all that into any betting equation.
Aside from football, every athletic program (men’s and women’s) at Penn State has been tarnished; it is simply the truth. Merely wearing the words “Penn State” on the uniform will spark memories of what has transpired. Perhaps they should all revert to those old 1950s high school outfits with nothing but big numerals and no idea of alliance.
Donations will almost certainly drop like a rock off the Grand Canyon ledge. This isn’t blind allegiance like donors to the Herman Cain campaign have chosen to respond, choosing not to believe anything any accuser claims (instead taking Cain at his less-than-accurate word).
The Big 10 Conference is a victim, now speared with the second marquee school (can you say Ohio State?) undergoing such negative scrutiny. While there is little in the terms of sanctions that can be placed on Penn State, you just know that each revelation in Happy Valley is a punch in the gut in the conference offices in Chicago.
And that foundation is also a victim. I’m sure its intentions are honorable and true, but now I cannot imagine who will support it or how it carries forward in light of the information released about what was happening. If it happened to one 10-year-old boy, does ANYONE honestly believe it was a singular case (it has been reported as many as 17 others have stepped forward with similar stories)? Would anyone allow their child to be involved with a foundation that was led by an alleged pedophile?
Of course, everyone connected with this situation at Penn State needs to go – from Paterno to the athletic director (arrested for perjury as part of the cover-up), the school president, the graduate assistant now offensive coordinator (who failed to take the information to the proper authority) and the head of the campus police (who should have immediately informed local and state authorities the second he heard what was alleged).
And the PSU board of trustees also bears responsibility for NOT knowing this case over the last 12 years. Each of those men and women need to ask themselves why they were put so far outside of the loop as to have become campus “villains” for ousting a beloved figure. Local law enforcement and the various prosecutorial entities also share blame for not doing their job. It was reported to them later, but any investigation sat idle until now.
Let’s get one thing straight: the media is NOT responsible for bringing the walls of this temple down upon the university’s head. If anything, those covering the Nittany Lions for the last 12 years (and even before that) were also caught up in the bright lights that surrounded Paterno. Too many in State College treated Paterno as if he was some kind of God; certainly the riots and student reaction after the dismissal announcement demonstrated just how misplaced loyalty, affection and allegiance can be.
For most, it will take 15 years’ time, when they have children of their own, to fully understand the true horror that descended upon their school. I hate it when people employ the throwaway tag line, “It’s for the children,” because in this matter, the needs of the child/children were secondary to the reputation of a program and university.
Joe Paterno had long lost control of his program and certainly remained as head coach far too long. Like the boxer who “unretires” once too many times before being made to look like a sad shell of his former self, Paterno now must sleep each subsequent night with the knowledge of the harm his silence did to that child, his program, his legacy, his school and himself.
Bottom line? Wrong is wrong and those implicit in this cover-up need to go, including JoePa. He has tarnished his own life.

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