On the Penn State scandal

I’m done defending Joe Paterno regarding his role in the Jerry Sandusky scandal. They can do with they want with the statue. I’m don’t think they should tear it down completely, because that would be like pretending this whole thing never happened. Rather, something should be done so that future generations will see Paterno’s greatness as well as his flaws.

It doesn’t matter much to me, though. The statue is on the non-campus side of Beaver Stadium where you really have to look for it in order to find it. It was never meant to be a central landmark of Penn State anyway (at least not until major expansions were made to the already giant university). No matter if the statue is torn down or not, that’s not what’s going to affect the memory of Paterno at Penn State.

I think Phil Knight said it best, as far as Joe’s supporters go. “I missed that he missed it.” That sums up well how I feel now that the Freeh report has brought so much more new information to the table. Before, I felt that protests of Paterno’s firing were acceptable, because there wasn’t enough evidence to link the legendary coach to the decisions that covered up Sanudsky’s crimes.

That’s all changed now, and while there remain some in defense of Paterno, for me it’s become impossible to look past the fact that Paterno and the other stooges let Sandusky stay affiliated to the university with even a little knowledge about what might be going on. “Inexcusable” doesn’t really seem like a strong enough word.

One thing I don’t agree with is the notion that Paterno was somehow the mastermind behind the whole cover-up. I realize that he almost certainly held more power than Tim Curley or Gary Schultz or Graham Spanier, but that doesn’t mean he was willing to exercise that power to save Penn State some embarrassment. The Freeh Report brings to light that the Sandusky problem was discussed with Paterno, and we know that he certainly wasn’t adamant about turning the guy in, but we don’t know if it was the other way around, either. Maybe it was Curley or Spanier who talked Paterno into the cover-up. That wouldn’t excuse the fact that Paterno was part of what happened, but the point is that we don’t know if Paterno abused his role as football coach, like so many are assuming.

As for the punishment goes, it’s funny that so many people were discussing it on Thursday, because not much happened between now and November to change the NCAA’s reaction. Does it matter that much that Paterno had a bigger role in the cover-up and that it wasn’t just the athletic director and school president? The big deal is that this was allowed to go on in the football building right? Regardless of whether that statement is even close to being right, the fact remains that everyone associated with the scandal is either dead or in jail or definitely going to jail. Any punishment issued would not help the victims or any recovery effort or the thousands of Penn Staters who just want to move on.

Any punishment issued would be just for the sake of punishment. A host on ESPN Radio yesterday evening was talking about how he didn’t want to hear about how any NCAA sanctions wouldn’t be “fair” to the students athletes and alumni who had to deal with them. “Fair” didn’t matter because Penn State had to be punished and that was that. Only the death penalty was appropriate, because this was the worst thing that had ever happened in college athletics.

It’s impossible to argue with how bad the Sandusky crimes and subsequent cover-up are. However, if we’re throwing “fair” out the window, then why punish Penn State at all? The whole purpose of punishment is to be “fair,” so if there’s no “fair,” there’s no punishment. All that’s really left at the school that’s associated with the scandal is the name “Penn State,” so who is there left to punish?

In the past NCAA sanctions seem to try to balance out the gains made by athletic programs that used ineligible athletes. The punishments handed to USC following the Reggie Bush situation were far too harsh in my opinion, but they happened because USC had success with an ineligible player. That’s totally different from the situation at Penn State.

Yes, of course the problem at Penn State is infinitely worse, and practically every alumnus is extremely embarrassed and heartbroken about it, but what good does punishing the new football regime do? I’ve heard that Penn State needs to be “reminded” that it’s goal should be to education young people instead of to win football games, but PSU has been putting education above football for decades.

Penn State is among the national leaders in graduation rate. If the school was so hell-bent on winning football games, they wouldn’t be losing blue-chip western Pennsylvania recruits like Terrelle Pryor to Ohio State. We wouldn’t see talents like Darelle Revis and LeSean McCoy come out of Pittsburgh instead of Penn State. If you want to look for schools at which education isn’t a priority, there are plenty of them out there, but Penn State isn’t one of them.

I believe the cover-up happened not because Paterno and the stooges were trying to protect the football team. It happened because they were trying to protect the reputation of the entire school. That’s the only reason to explain how Paterno — a man who stressed education above football all the time — came to take part in it.

From 2010:

SN: Do many recruits choose their schools for the wrong reasons?

Paterno: Some of them, sure. Look at the (academic) opportunities on campus, and if they’re interested in the kind of football that we play, come and find out a little bit about us. They’ve got to be comfortable in the environment that we create, academically as well as being part of the whole university community. I think kids ought to come to college to come to college, and play football as an extracurricular activity. And when it goes beyond that, where the football becomes more important than the whole educational experience, they’re picking the wrong spot. And I tell them that.

Education has always been valued at Penn State! And that’s what makes the scandal all the more frustrating. How could a guy who so clearly put the “student” before “athlete” put so many children in danger for the sake of a school’s reputation? My only thought is that Paterno thought the fallout of charges against Sandusky would somehow hurt the school from an academic standpoint. That doesn’t justify what he did. It doesn’t do that in the least. Just don’t tell me that this was a football problem.

The fact that so many schools are more highly regraded for their football teams than for their academic programs is a problem across the country, but it’s not a good enough reason to punish Penn State’s football program. The only purpose for that would be to appease those who believe everyone associated with Penn State should suffer for the actions of a few corrupt administrators.

Of course, if the NCAA still wants to step in and “do something,” I say bring it on. Even if we have to suffer through a year or two without football, we’ll eventually come back strong. The fall of Paterno and the school’s reputation have only made the current students and alumni more untied and resolute. We still have the cool uniforms and the giant stadium, and we’ll still pack that giant stadium for a 3-9 season. We still have THON and the “Penn State” name and the former will always make us proud of the latter, no matter how much it gets dragged through the mud. We still have amazing professors and world-class facilities and the town of State College.

We still have the Nittany Lion and the creamery and most importantly, the memories. Unjustly punish the football team if you want. Say about Paterno what you will. We’ll always be bigger than any of that because…



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2 Responses to On the Penn State scandal

  1. Chris Ross says:

    Very solid article. I don’t think the book should be thrown at Penn State, only the people involved. I just think it’s not fair to the kids in that program who have had nothing to do with this whole thing. Their lives could be ruined because of this. I get that they let a horrible thing happen but I’m not sure what killing the program would accomplish. I guess vindication for the victims but I don’t even think it gives them that. Just throw the book at the actual people involved, not the program. Also, you think you could check out my blog cuz I really wanna hear what you have to say http://chrisross91.wordpress.com/2012/07/12/joe-paterno-trapped-by-legacy/

  2. Ryne Crabb says:

    Very well written. The fairest reaction article I’ve seen since the report broke. You did an amazing job putting my feelings into words without knowing anything about me – thank you. And we STILL are!

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