If ever there was a column I never wanted to write, this was it.
Yet not writing about it would have been cowardly.
More than anything, I personally am identified as a lover of the game of football. I prefer the NFL to the college game, but the Penn State situation cannot be ignored by anyone who loves football.
Penn State has been rocked to its core with the disclosure that former Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky was sexually abusing young boys that he met through a charitable organization he founded. Sandusky was caught in 2002 in a campus locker room shower with a young boy. Although he retired in 1999, he still came on to campus frequently.
To make matters worse, top members of the Penn State athletic department, including legendary coach Joe Paterno, knew about what happened.
First let’s dispense with the obvious. Mr. Sandusky is presumed innocent, but if he is guilty he should burn in a fiery underground pit for all of eternity. Crimes against innocent children are one of the rare instances where the word “unforgivable” looms large. Human beings do not sexually abuse children. Vile animals do.
As much as people want to make this story about something bigger than football, football does play a major role in this tragedy.
The culture of football is about being macho. Players play injured, knowing that broken bones heal and heroism and glory can last a lifetime. Players play in ice cold and snow and in blazing heat. Most importantly, what happens in the locker room stays in the locker room. The code of silence bonds the brothers in pads and helmets.
While blaming the victims for not speaking out is unacceptable, it is necessary to understand the reluctance to speak out. Players do not want to be seen as “gay.” There are homosexual men in the NFL, and this is just an issue that is not dealt with. Gays publicly serve in our military now, but in the NFL they keep quiet. Gay players keep quiet because millions of dollars are on the line.
These kids were nowhere near professional players. They were just dreaming of one day playing. Yet even young kids see their heroes on television and want to emulate strength. Fear of being seen as weak makes them vulnerable to predators (alleged) like Sandusky.
Coach Joe Paterno has been molding young men at Penn State as a head coach since 1966. In all of that time, he has run a clean program. Penn State was never seriously sanctioned during his tenure. At age 84, he had the Nittany Lions at 8-1 and in contention for a national championship. The alleged crimes were committed by an ex-employee no longer affiliated with the program.
Yet the father figure affectionately referred to as “Joe-Pa” came under heavy fire for being seen as not doing enough upon being aware of the child molestation taking place. He did report the incident to his immediate supervisor and campus police. He then washed his hands of the matter.
Legally he did the right thing. The Pennsylvania Attorney General stated that he is not a target of the investigation. Yet morally some are asking if he should have done more.
This view is shortsighted. There is a hierarchy, and usurping authority in the chain of command is not appropriate. Despite the fact that Coach Paterno was a larger than life figure on campus, he was still not the boss. He reported to his supervisor. He followed proper procedure. That should have been the end of it from his standpoint.
Coach Paterno wanted to tell his version of events in his weekly press conference, but was silenced from doing so.
Coach Paterno decided to retire at the end of the season. He had three games left plus a possible Bowl game. Retiring was the right thing to do.
The trustees on campus decided that was not good enough. Despite 46 years and 409 wins, the most of any Division I college football coach, Joe Paterno was fired. This was absolutely the wrong thing to do.
Trustees are academics. They love to preach that universities are places of higher learning, and that academics is more important than football. This sounds highbrow, except that at most programs with established football programs, this is a lie.
Engineering, law and medical schools students did not bring in hundreds of millions of dollars to Penn State. Joe Paterno and his college football team did. Like it or not, 100,000 people will not spend money out of their pocket on a weekly basis every freezing winter to watch the research team cure diseases. Should they? Life is about what is, not what should be.
The trustees wanted to send a message that nobody is indispensable. In recent years several iconic coaches from Bobby Knight to Bobby Bowden to Eddie Robinson were fired or forced into early retirement. Yet Bobby Knight was caught on videotape in a physical altercation with a player. Bobby Bowden had allegations of corruption to fend off, from students skipping classes to getting arrested for off the field behavioral problems. Knight ran a clean program but could not control his personal behavior. Bowden was a gentleman accused of turning a blind eye and letting his players run wild.
(Florida State University was the school that the fictional ESU in the movie “The Program” was modeled after, showing the dark side of college football.)
Eddie Robinson was a gentleman who ran a clean program. His players were good citizens. Yet after 55 years, he just stopped winning.
Joe Paterno did not succumb to any of these problems. He personally treated people with respect, and his players for the most part stayed out of trouble. He ran a clean program and kept himself clean in his conduct. The Nittany Lions were still one of the top teams in the country. They were winning, and doing it the right way.
This is why it is so wrong to see a 46 year veteran, an 84 year old man, shoved under the bus. He committed no crime. Yet he did not go “above and beyond.”
When dealing with issues involving abuse of children, the bare minimum for many doesn’t cut it.
Nothing lasts forever, and Penn State will move on just like Grambling, Indiana, and Florida State did.
People will rightly point out that what Joe Paterno went through is nothing compared to what the sexual abuse victims are dealing with.
This is true, but unfair. Telling a paraplegic to be grateful they are not a quadriplegic is wrong.
The sexual abuse victims of course are the “biggest” victims. We should all pray for every single one of them.
Yet Joe Paterno is also a victim. He took the fall for the bad behavior of others who no longer even worked for him. He was given the news in a telephone call, not even in person.
People lament how corporations fire workers in such a cold manner. The fact that Joe Paterno was a highly paid football coach does not make the callousness of how he was treated any more acceptable.
As students descended on his home to tell him that they loved him, he came outside and gave them advice that we should all follow.
Pray for the sexual abuse victims. They need it.
Oakland Raiders @ San Diego Chargers (7) was the Thursday night game.
New Orleans Saints (1) @ Atlanta Falcons
Tennessee Titans @ Carolina Panthers (3 1/2)
(Panthers win but fail to cover)
Pittsburgh Steelers (3) @ Cincinnati Bengals
St. Louis Rams @ Cleveland Browns (3)
Buffalo Bills @ Dallas Cowboys (5 1/2)
(Cowboys win but fail to cover)
Jacksonville Jaguars (3) @ Indianapolis Colts
(Colts win outright)
Denver Broncos @ Kansas City Chiefs (3 1/2)
(Broncos win outright)
Washington Redskins @ Miami Dolphins (4)
(Redskins win outright)
Arizona Cardinals @ Philadelphia Eagles (Pick)
Houston Texans @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Pick)
Baltimore Ravens (7) @ Seattle Seahawks
(Ravens win but fail to cover)
Detroit Lions @ Chicago Bears (3)
New York Giants @ San Francisco 49ers (Pick)
New England Patriots @ New York Jets (1) is the Sunday night game.
(Patriots win outright)
Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers (14) is the Monday night game.
(Packers win but fail to cover)