Wednesday, November 09, 2011

A Damn Shame

Rather than leaving his fate to others and submitting to the firing squad --- probably a circular one --- Joe Paterno has decided to retire at the end of this season.  Of course, at 84 years old, he's entitled to do as he wants to, but I think it's a shame.

I am not one of those who believes Paterno to be culpable.  As I understand it, the deviant child molester who provoked this whole imbroglio was long gone from Paterno's staff when he was apparently witnessed by another member of Penn State's staff to be molesting a boy on Penn State property, where he was contractually entitled to be.  No one had ever before suspected that he was a child molester.  The witness despicably did nothing to intervene, but instead reported it to Paterno, who reported that hearsay evidence up the chain to Athletic Department and University officials, who then failed to act, or even covered it up.

What else was Paterno supposed to have done?  He had no authority over his former staff member.  He had not witnessed the crime.  He is a state employee, and did precisely what was required of him under the law.  And given his badge of authority as such, to do more might have exposed him, the University, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to considerable liabilities.

The real problem appears to be that Paterno has become a victim of his own legend.

And legend he is.  The now-winningest coach in the history of college football, Paterno has always done it the right way, running an entirely clean program when other large universities have frequently failed to do so.  A noted disciplinarian, his players knew that they could not get away with the types of misbehavior engaged in by so many star college athletes.  Young men wanted to play for him.  Young men's parents wanted their sons to learn from him, knowing that --- again, unlike in so many other large-university programs --- their sons were highly likely to obtain their degrees under their tutelage.  In a day when the concept of in loco parentis has largely gone the way of the dinosaur, it was alive and well in State College, Pennsylvania, and exercised by Joe Paterno.

In his 46 years as Head Coach, he has won two National Championships, and probably deserved two others.  More importantly, he has taught men, and raised the Pennsylvania State University from mediocrity to national renown.

The problem for Paterno is that more is now expected, because more always has been delivered.

Attaching a scandal to Paterno is therefore a unique event in college sports, because no one has ever been able to do so.

And, as noted above, no one should be able to do so now.  He has no culpability --- moral, legal, or ethical --- in these circumstances.  Joe Paterno has never been and is not now a law unto himself, no matter that the legend suggests that he might be, that he could be.  It is a measure of the man that, to my knowledge, he never has tried to become so.  It is that humility which is one of the things that makes him the great man that he is.

I confess: I am a fan.  I grew up about 90 miles from State College, and my grandparents were long-time season ticket holders (40-yard line; home side; about halfway up).  After attending the 1972 Indianapolis 500 with my parents, and a Cincinnati Reds game a year later with my father, the only big-time sporting events I attended in my formative years were with my grandparents at Beaver Stadium.

And so now, we are going to witness one of the rarest events in Division I college football: Penn State is in need of a head football coach.

And I pity the man facing the task of filling Joe Paterno's black shoes.


Citizen Tom said...

Since I don't watch sports, I have not paid much attention to this story. However, it has garnered so attention I could not help but hear something about it. What I could not figure out is what Paterno had done wrong. It appears my confusion was justified.

We cannot have it both ways. To keep management from abusing employee rights, we cannot tie it up in legal knots and still expect managers to cast off employees they merely suspect of bad behavior.

What still leaves me wondering is why the news media did this to Paterno. With virtually no justification -- other than the fact they expect him to be perfect -- why have they worked so hard to destroy the man's reputation? I fear that destroying that man's reputation was a financial decision. It made the story sell.

Kurt said...

Paterno testified that he didn't immediately call his own boss, then-athletic director Tim Curley, when McQueary visited that Saturday. His reasoning, Paterno told the grand jury, is that he didn't want to interfere with Curley's weekend plans. Ouch!
Paterno and Curley's testimonies follow a pattern of slow responses showing no sense of urgency by officials over sex abuse allegations against Sandusky.
What else was Paterno supposed to have done? JoePa's will to act shriveled in real life. When he should've been yelling, screaming, and otherwise raising a fuss with school officials and local authorities, like he would with a referee during a game.
Yes, he did precisely what was required of him under the law - but far, far short of ethics and morals.

Kurt said...

Perhaps now you "believe" that Paterno was most definitely culpable.

James Young said...

On what basis? You've offered no evidence, and dancing on his grave hardly counts as such.

Kurt said...

Sorry James. I assumed you would be familiar with the Freeh Report and the substantial evidence it provides including re: Paterno. Am I correct in assuming that you dispute and deny that report?
This is not dancing on his grave in any respect, merely continuing the dialogue you started with your post, in light of substantial new facts and evidence. All in context of the horrors that Sandusky committed, and Paterno knew of since at least 1998.

James Young said...

I wasn't, because I was at Goshen for a week.

Having reviewed it now, however, I fail to see anything new or "substantial" about Paterno's actions (or the University's; it seems that the report details what already was generally known), and stand by my comments. I don't "dispute" its facts; I dispute its sanctimonious conclusions.

James Young said...

And what "Paterno knew of since at least 1998"? He knew of an investigation, one which did NOT result in a prosecution. Are we to now conclude that merely being investigated is tantamount to a conviction?

Applying that standard, I suppose Eric Holder should be spending quality time somewhat east of University Park, in Lewisburg.