Joe Paterno: Last Home Game at Penn State?

When the Nittany Lions take the field Saturday against Nebraska, will it be the last home game as coach for Joe Paterno? My guess is yes. And if that happens, it’s a shame that JoePa with all his many accomplishments will go out with his legacy tarnished.

But it’s even more shameful that apparently nobody at Penn State stood up for the young boys who allegedly were being attacked for years by a sexual predator. Hey, these are horrific accusations and they go way beyond the usual misconduct at the football factories of under-the-table payments by alumni, cheating, selling championship rings and so on.

As I opined Monday, here’s a textbook example of where doing the legally correct thing isn’t always the ethically or morally right thing to do.

OK. In an ideal world everyone would chill and relax — and wait for the legal process to be completed. Then we’ll know who is guilty and who is innocent. But that ain’t going to happen. The Penn State Board of Trustees will meet Friday and I’ll be surprised if the moving van doesn’t pull up at university president Graham Spanier’s house shortly thereafter.

Here’s the statement from the Board of Trustees:

The Board of Trustees of The Pennsylvania State University is outraged by the horrifying details contained in the Grand Jury Report. As parents, alumni and members of the Penn State Community, our hearts go out to all of those impacted by these terrible events, especially the tragedies involving children and their families. We cannot begin to express the combination of sorrow and anger that we feel about the allegations surrounding Jerry Sandusky. We hear those of you who feel betrayed and we want to assure all of you that the Board will take swift, decisive action.

At its regular meeting on Friday, November 11, 2011, the Board will appoint a Special Committee, members of which are currently being identified, to undertake a full and complete investigation of the circumstances that gave rise to the Grand Jury Report.   This Special Committee will be commissioned to determine what failures occurred, who is responsible and what measures are necessary to insure that this never happens at our University again and that those responsible are held fully accountable. The Special Committee will have whatever resources are necessary to thoroughly fulfill its charge, including independent counsel and investigative teams, and there will be no restrictions placed on its scope or activities.   Upon the completion of this investigation, a complete report will be presented at a future public session of the Board of Trustees.

Penn State has always strived for honesty, integrity and the highest moral standards in all of its programs. We will not tolerate any violation of these principles. We educate over 95,000 students every year and we take this responsibility very seriously. We are dedicated to protecting those who are placed in our care.   We promise you that we are committed to restoring public trust in the University.

Prez Spanier — you might as well start packing the dishes.

And JoePa will be next — although I expect the trustees will orchestrate some exit strategy that lets him retire after the season — which might very well include a season-ending game in the Rose Bowl.

In the meantime, of all the words that have been written and said about this tragedy — for the young boys involved, their families and for the adults who should have protected them — here’s an article in the NYT by George Vecsey, “The Dangerous Cocoon of King Football“:

Really, we need to do something about big-time college sports.

The horrendous scandal at the most prominent public college in Pennsylvania has been aided and abetted by the oppressive status of King Football.

Officials at Penn State did not want to know that, according to prosecutors, boys were being abused by a trusted member of the football family. Perhaps the subject was too queasy for them. Besides, it would get in the way of entertaining the masses, which is what the sport is for.

Football is the central fact of life in the state. When a large male newborn is on display in the hospital nursery, people make loving jokes about sending him out to JoePa to play linebacker. Not so funny at the moment, is it?

Apparently, young boys were brought to the massive football program by Jerry Sandusky, who was first a major assistant coach and later an emeritus member of the football “family.” Some family. The guy had keys to the facilities, with enough freedom to take showers with the boys, and, if we believe the warrant for Sandusky, jeopardize the balance of their lives.

People saw. People knew. A few people even talked. But ultimately it got swept under the rug for years because of the rush to Saturday, those autumn game days when people funnel into Happy Valley for the biggest thing in the state.

Penn State is expected to win all 12 games every season, and when it doesn’t, the boosters boo and whine and agitate, just as they do at 50 or 100 other major football foundries at all the other Happy Valleys in this land of skewed values.

It takes a yearlong effort to produce the gigantic shows to keep people happy. Who wants to hear bad news about a well-known assistant who runs a charity for underprivileged youth — but might have a dark side to him? Get with the program. That’s what these monstrosities are called, programs. They loom over the rest of the campus.

The legalities of all this are going to have to play out. We do know that Sandusky was arrested on 40 counts of abusing boys over 15 years. The athletic director, Tim Curley, took an administrative leave Sunday night so he could defend himself; and Gary Schultz, the senior vice president for finance and business, resigned Sunday night. Both were charged with perjury for their testimony to a grand jury investigating Sandusky.

That leaves Joe Paterno, the 84-year-old coach, the icon, the benefactor, and most important, the winner of 409 football games, the most by any coach at this highest level. Apparently, Paterno knew about his former assistant in 2002 and went to Curley and then he went back to supervising practices and giving news conferences and recruiting large young men to play football for the program. Paterno is an admirable man. I like to write about the high graduation rates of his players and his occasional reminiscences of being a teenage vendor in a Brooklyn ballpark named Ebbets Field. So we’ve all got our soft spots. The attorney general said Monday that Paterno is not a suspect in this case, so I would think he deserves a polite retirement at the end of the season.

But I also think, these Penn State people are fathers and uncles and brothers. Did they not worry about these children being brought onto their campus?

The problem would seem to be a gerontocracy of the soul, too many people who have been in the same place too long. Paterno has been at Penn State, as an assistant and the head coach, for 62 years, a record. Graham B. Spanier, the university president, was a faculty member and an administrator there from 1973 to 1982 and returned to lead the university in 1995; Curley graduated from Penn State in 1976 and has been the athletic director since 1993; and Schultz graduated from Penn State in 1971 and has worked there ever since. Ultimately, they all serve the monster that rises on 12 Saturdays a year.

The question is, if Paterno heard some ugly stuff about Sandusky in 2002, it is now 2011, and he seems to have not done anything about it since. Maybe he didn’t invite the guy to his house anymore. That I don’t know. But as far as alerting people to the possible predator tendencies of his former assistant, Paterno seems to have been silent. He had a game to coach. He had players to recruit.

For an essentially good man, this is worse than the way Woody Hayes went out. Hayes was a bombastic legend at Ohio State, but in his dotage he leapt off the sideline and punched an opposing player in a 1978 bowl game. End of career.

And Hayes went out better than Jim Tressel, the most recent coach at Ohio State, who resigned after people figured out he was lying to cover up for some players who were selling their rings and trophies for tattoos. It wasn’t the violation as much as the cover-up.

This seems to be a common malady for big-time coaches. They get so puffed up with trying to go undefeated that they lose sight of reality. Just to run this kind of program demands moral blinkers.

What happened at Penn State, of course, is not just about football. It’s about what happens when people in positions of authority fail to conduct themselves with the highest standards of character, integrity and ethical behavior.

If Saturday is Paterno’s last home game as the head coach at Penn State, I hope that people remember his many contributions to his players, to the community, to students and to the university. But I hope they also consider that regardless of your job or position, you really can’t just call a timeout when it is convenient and walk way from your ethical and moral responsibilities.

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2 responses to “Joe Paterno: Last Home Game at Penn State?

  1. Iris Wyman, Las Cruces, NM

    Paterno, you will not go out on a blaze of glory. This would be proper and just punishment for a man who was either too old, or simply too involved in the recruitment of big and strong young men, to care about children who were being sexually assaulted by a predator on campus.

    Sandusky, Paterno, and University authorities will burn in hell.

  2. I Think you know my feelings on this, both here and in private, but i’m getting really fed up with the “Joe” bashing. Was he right in what he did??Absolutly not as I said before. But his legacy will not be defined by this…tarnished-yes, Too many positives…the thousands of recruits he helped turn into outstanding members of our society, playing by the rules, etc. I always felt disguest for my fellow alumni who would come down on Joe because he didn’t produce a national campionship every year, but i knew that he started every year with a handicap becuse he wouldn’t give recruits

    money, hookers, perks that the other schools did. They came to Penn State to play for Joe, receive a great education and leave after four years a better person than they came in as. And that is alll he ever wanted.
    Why does no one have a problem with the asistant coach who “witnessed” this?? Every one know he played high school football with sanduskys kids, every one knows his father was good friends with sandusky…what this guy did was criminal. No different in my mind if he was walking across campus and saw someone being raped behind the chemistry building. Would he have called his father or done something to prevent the attack?? would he have waited a day to report it to anyone??
    When this scumbag of an assistant came to Joe the next day the proper course of action shold have been “i’LL go to the university but YOU need to go to the police be cause you are the witness one way or the other”

    could give a rats ass about any records or his place in college football history…he cared about his players and making sure they were the “student” first in the phrase “student athlete

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