Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Dismantling of a Legend Rightfully Continues

For about a decade, I can remember Joe Paterno telling the world that if he wasn't coaching football, he'd would literally die.  In fact, he credited the game and his players for keeping him young-acting and alive.  In hindsight, there seems to be a ton of truth to that.

We know a lot about the guy that we didn't years ago.  We know that he struggled privately with various illnesses...most noteworthy, the cancer that took his life shortly after he was fired.  But, the most dangerous illness Paterno probably suffered from was a mental illness that made him believe in a reality that simply didn't exist.

In Joe Paterno's world, football, loyalty, reputation, public perception and graduation rates were more important than laws or even lives.  No one will ever say that it was a bad thing that so many of Paterno's players graduated from college.  In fact, many of his players were given opportunities at lives they would have never had if it wasn't for Paterno's football program. But, there were many parts of his program that were in shambles before most of the world ever knew what The Second Mile even was...or knew of the disgusting underbelly of its founder.

As Paterno aged, he did what a lot of older people do- he began to slow down and care less about the details that once defined him.  In this process, he stopped looking for lawlessness and poor behavior; and worse, he stopped caring about this behavior's repercussions.  It's been pretty well-documented that in the 00s and after, PSU football players were arrested at a much-higher rate than they had been in the previous decades under Paterno's watch.  In spite of that, the head coach didn't see the interest in the change of the program as anything more than a "witch hunt". A few years of rough water and sub-par records later, Paterno's Lions emerged once again as a powerhouse.  And Paterno's national reputation remained mostly-unblemished.

On the field, Paterno was fiery...even when hobbled by injuries or illness. His players reflected that fire with a hard-nosed brand of football that reflected the lunchpail perspective that the simply-dressed coach often exuded.  But, like some other legendary coaches before him that held on a bit too long, discipline and principles were sometimes replaced with outright anger, a bully's mentality and little proof that consequences existed for the actions.  But, in press conferences, Paterno's awe-schucks answers were lauded by the media and Nittany Lion fans alike.

The man could do no wrong...even when he did wrong. If he assailed an official as he ran toward the tunnel, not only would he not get penalized in the second half, ABC would cheer on the effort as spunky and gritty. If he dodged questions in press conferences, we'd hear about how he was a master at handling issues with political savvy and wisdom that young people just don't have.  I'm pretty sure that he didn't think that the final serious issue that he'd ever have to deal with on this earth, was the cover-up surrounding one of his ex-assistants sexual deviancy and mis-conduct.

I'm also sure that he believed, no, knew, that he was above the law.

His grandfatherly public persona was hardly ever broken.  Even after he was fired, his boyish smile and pithy comments to the student body made it seem like the entire Sandusky case was an overblown mis-understanding.  But in spite what some PSU alums and fans try to tell us, there was no misunderstanding here.  JoePa knew exactly what was happening...and intentionally directed people to look the other way and cover-up some of the most-monstrous behavior imaginable.

Outside of cannibalism, is there anything that our society is more disgusted by than adults that make children their sexual prey?  I can only speak for myself and the people I know well...but I don't think anything is lower than this.  It has the power to completely ruin lives- it robs the victim of not only their childhood, but also an adult life of much of the perspective and joy we take for granted.

YET, Paterno, part of Penn State's administration, and much of its athletic department thought it was better to protect one of their own than bring to the light this horrible darkness. This is the worst case of lack of institutional control that the NCAA will ever investigate.  They probably will not give the football program what they deserve later this year...but that in itself is a different conversation and enough material for a month of posts.
PSU fans continue to defend the deceased leader of their football program, but nothing I've read, and no one I've talked to, can convince me that Paterno is any different than a gangster that saw the family as more important than law, decency or those who aren't part of his inner circle.  He abused his bigtime power in a small town to perpetuate a conspiracy that left lives shattered and all but encouraged lawlessness to continue. As recently as last fall, Sandusky was welcomed into Penn State's facilities by Paterno and Co. as a guest of the coach. Now try to relate for a moment. Could you, would you, welcome a child predator into your home time and again if he wasn't repentent? I'd hope not.  Could you, would you,give him the apparatus to continue his abhorrent behavior? Probably not. Could you, would you, instruct others to lie on his behalf in order to protect him? Absolutely not.

The more that's investigated, the more awful this case becomes.  The more digging that occurs, the more we all get to see just how dark things really were.  And while Paterno and his PSU lemmings were never guilty of the repetitive act itself, they were all guilty...and all should pay in some way.  It seems only just that the PSU football empire that Paterno built should be dismantled by the scandal that he covered up for a decade.

Knocking down statues and chipping away at the legacy should be the just the beginning of the destruction of a mythical legend that simply doesn't match the true story. But sadly, by dying, Paterno got off way too easy...and he'll never see the consequences of the fraud that he enabled and perpetuated.


Ben C said...

I couldn't have said it better, B-dowd. No amount of punishment for the university or the individuals involved in the cover up will be too severe.

J Money said...

It's also interesting how many supporters and even many in the mainstream media continue to say this has nothing to do with the program and so the program shouldn't be punished. It's just a continuation of the head-in-the-sand, fingers-in-the-ears approach that Paterno always cultivated.

As I said in my post on this back in November, I'm embarrassed that they're part of the Big Ten and in any way associated with Purdue, no matter how tangentially.

The conference would be well within their rights to ask them to leave.

Benjamin said...

The NCAA would be overstepping its bounds if it brought down any sanctions on Penn State. This is a legal matter that needs to be handled in a legal way. The NCAA can deal with cheating and improper recruitment all it wants, but this has nothing to do with sports. Would the SEC get involved if a banker was molesting little boys?

As another blogger said, "Paterno is dead. Sandusky is in prison. The other 3 officials will probably face some kind of civil lawsuits." The people who caused this tragedy are being punished. There is no need to punish the players, coaches and fans for something they had no part in.

Ryan said...

Your analogy is extremely flawed, Ben.

Paterno, the athletic dept. and the Paterno not only represent the football program, but are an iconic part of the NCAA. For the NCAA to do nothing would be a travesty. PSU broke rules and laws alike in the process of covering-up this situation...they continued by not firing EVERY person who knew about this and did nothing about it.

Benjamin said...


5 people broke rules. The organization did not. There wasn't a culture bred among all the players and coaches that fostered the molestation of children. This was an isolated incident that would have occurred whether or not college football was involved. The NCAA punishing PSU will not deter other schools from doing this kind of thing. This entire situation reaches far beyond football, and (to me) the NCAA stepping in only fosters the impression that it is on par with our justice system. This isn't about football or college athletics, stop trying to make it be. Making this about college athletics takes attention away from those who deserve it right now, and that's the victims and criminals who let this happen.

The people responsible have been punished by the school, to the fullest extent, and hopefully will be by the law.

Also, you failed to tell me why my analogy was flawed?

J Money said...

Ben -- so now you're sure only five people broke the rules? So what about if it WAS an on-field incident, but only five people were involved and they all were either dead or in prison or no longer at the school? Should the school still not be punished?

You're looking at it from the perspective of how it would punish current players, staff and students and wouldn't be fair in that sense, and I get that. But from a larger, more holistic view, not punishing PSU in a major way does a disservice and isn't fair to the victims. Also, it reflects poorly on all of us if nothing is done as they are a member of the NCAA and the Big Ten.

The program was an inanimate co-conspirator/enabler in all of this. The lack of control around programs is often punished, even when those responsible are long gone.

Boilergal said...

There should be harsh sanctions against the FB program as well as charges brought against anyone that knew anything about this and covered it up/failed to report it. This was about more than protecting a friend... it was about protecting Jo Pa's legacy and the Penn State football program. This is all a result of trying to maintain PSUs FB program. The program needs to be punished, it ruined lives! It still hosted the deviant up until the scandal came out! Some of these assaults happened in conjunction with PSU football trips and functions. This is total lack of control. If someone is going to take the position that this will hurt the current players... they can TRANSFER! This is not solely about college athletics, but this is definitely about protecting the football program's image above protecting the lives of innocent CHILDREN! That is why the program needs to be punished... regardless of whether those in charge are still there or not!

Ryan said...

The second part of the NCAA's mission (Core Values) states (among other things) that they strive to create an organization of academic institutions, through sport, that:

-pursue and achieve the highest levels of integrity

-enhance the sense of community which they're a part of

-strengthen the identity of their institution

-are autonomously led by the university's leadership, by the university's standards

Penn State deserves punishment from the NCAA because, as a member of this association of universities that participate in NCAA sanctioned events, they've agreed to abide by the NCAA's rules.

Your analogy is flawed because banking has nothing to do with Athletics.

I'll go one step further- the B1G should kick PSU out (as J talks about) because, once again, the university, athletic department and finally, football program doesn't exemplify anything that the B1G says it stands for.

The acts of Sandusky, by themselves, don't warrant any such action. But the massive cover-up by coaches and administrators absolutely calls for action by the NCAA and B1G.

zlionsfan said...

The Big Ten should absolutely boot Penn State. There are obviously a lot of people who seem to think that football is above the law. (Of course that doesn't apply only at the college level: there are plenty of professional examples as well.) Someone, either the NCAA or the Big Ten, has to get people to connect actions and consequences.

The president of the university, the athletic director, and the head football coach protected a serial child rapist who was using Penn State facilities for part of his crimes. It is impossible to separate the actions of those people from the university and the athletic program. That is, in fact, the point of their positions: to represent athletics and the school.

When people in those positions decide that it's more important to protect football than to obey the law with respect to a suspected felon, then it becomes necessary to demonstrate that football is not above the law.

Will that affect people who did not take part in the decision to shield Sandusky? Yes. That's how punishment works. You nail the people immediately responsible for it, and if the punishment affects others, perhaps that will give the next person in line cause to think twice before making the same mistake.

Because the flip side of that argument is that all you need to become immune to punishment is enough people depending on you. After all, there are people depending upon Spanier and Schultz, and frankly people depending on Paterno's legacy as well, because I'm not convinced that Jay has anything other than a last name to recommend him as a coach. Does that mean they shouldn't be punished? Of course not.

Plenty of people depended on SMU's football program, which is a legitimate reason for the NCAA to be hesitant to impose the death penalty. (A poor reason is that they are afraid to reduce the revenue on which they rely, which is why, say, USC football and UK basketball will never get the death penalty.) But they did it anyway, because it was necessary to get a message across. Today, people are still defending Penn State, even in the face of Sandusky's convictions and a particularly damning report, released at the same time as a letter from Paterno that shows no admission of wrongdoing, no guilt, nothing other than a plea to remember the good that the program did.

All that good did nothing to prevent those kids from being raped. Maybe expulsion from the Big Ten will send a message that will protect the next set of kids from becoming the next set of victims.

Ryan said...

Boom. Z is in this house.

L2F said...

Have to agree with Benjamin. This is a horrific crime that involved a few football coaches, but it is not an NCAA violation. And those thinking that an NCAA death penalty will stop this in the future are thinking backwards. What is more effective at stopping a crime? The threat of not going to the Outback Bowl, or the threat of going to jail for a long time. The people involved are going to jail plus they are going to be sued and will lose most of their personal wealth. On top of that they will never work again. Their lives will and should be ruined. Penn State is going to be sued and lose a chunk of their endowent plus they may lose some federal/state funding. If all of that doesn't make a person report a pedophile, the losing a few scholarships sure as hell isn't going to.

The link below is Andy Staples take on this. Pretty good.

J Money said...

The whole argument that the current kids and coaches did nothing wrong and shouldn't be punished rings a little hollow when we punish Ohio State for things that Tressel, Pryor and others did (and they're all gone) and we punish USC for things that Reggie Bush and Pete Carroll did (and they're gone).

You need to make an example and do justice. Does sending a murderer to prison or death row bring back the person they killed? No, but it makes others feel better and demonstrates how an unholy level of lacking institutional control will not be tolerated.

zlionsfan said...

Exactly. You set an example so that the next time a bunch of crooked old men sit in a plush suite, discussing what to do about the felon among them, someone says "Look, I don't want to come forward either, but you know what they did to Penn State. We can't afford to have that happen here." And if it doesn't get their attention, it gets the trustees' attention, so instead of trusting (no pun intended) the president to do his job, they demand regular reports to ensure he's doing it.

If the NCAA gives them a slap on the wrist, it won't deter the Paternos and Curleys of the world. What gets their attention is a sledgehammer.

For the more cynical among us - that's me - it would also divert attention from the growing realization that the NCAA basically preys on revenue-sport athletes. It's easy PR. Even if PSU fights sanctions in court, even if they win, the NCAA can say they tried ... and if they don't whack Penn State, then they're vulnerable to a lawsuit the next time, say, Ohio State is caught doing something. "You punished us because some kids got tattoos; PSU let kids get raped and they got nothing?" It may not be legally sound, but it'll carry weight in the court of public opinion.

Guys like Staples can whine about side effects all they want: guys like him have been singing Paterno's praises for the last 14 years, too. I prefer Rick Reilly's column today.

Dan Meyer said...

From a Christian perspective and assuming that the Freeh report is accurate (and apparently there is a sizable body of supporting evidence), Joe Paterno may have gotten off too easy in this life, but he did NOT get off too easy--not even close.

Ryan said...

Dan- You nor I know what prayer he prayed before he passed. We do know that he was not held accountable according to the laws of the state and nation that he lived in.