Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Paterno State University

Last night, the Paterno State University Board of Trustees fired Joe Paterno. Not surprisingly, he was shocked by the decision, thus confirming what we've known for years. You don't have to be much of a cynic to wonder whether the Board's action came after Paterno (with their implicit approval) floated the trial balloon of a year-end retirement only to see the adverse reaction to it. Unable to sustain an unsustainable position, the Board had to take the action that Paterno was reluctant to take himself. Two points. First, let's not ever try to pain Paterno as a sympathetic figure. This scandal doesn't erase all the other good in his life but neither does that good erase his morally bankrupt conduct in this case. If there is even one additional abuse victim once Paterno knew about Sandusky's alleged conduct (and by all accounts there were), then Paterno and many others are complicit in that abuse and should pay a heavy price. Second, at some point soon you can bet that the Big Ten Commission Jim Delaney and the NCAA will add some unintentional humor into this by announcing that neither Paterno nor Penn State violated any NCAA rules. That will be the final confirmation, really, of the NCAA's irrelevance in really being a force for something positive in the lives of young men and women. And if that brings about the downfall of the NCAA as well, then so much the better.

Original column starts now...

Whether Penn State football head coach Joe Paterno wins or loses against Nebraska on Saturday, the last home game he’ll apparently ever coach, won’t matter. The scoreboard when it’s over will still read, “Paterno State University 1, Abuse Victims 0.”

In what can only be described as the most tone deaf answer yet to the burgeoning child abuse scandal that is rocking not just the Penn State football program but also the entire university, Paterno is being given the opportunity to retire at season’s end. If the Penn State administration or Board of Trustees understood how depraved this situation really is and how absolutely vile they have been in their reaction to it, Paterno’s retirement would have started this past Monday.

As it is, Paterno will be given the opportunity to say goodbye to the fans, the students and all of the Penn State sympathizers. In the process more then a few people will infer that Paterno too is a victim in all this. They’ll talk about his record, his good works and how all of that is being forgotten in another rush to judgment. Don’t believe it for a moment. Paterno as victim surely turns this tragic tale on its head.

If the latest reports are true, there are at least 20 victims of the most horrific child abuse imaginable, any number of whom could potentially have escaped the abuse if Paterno had acted with any sort of moral center, who now will never escape their own personal hells. Paterno on the other hand can retire quietly, richly, and with the gratitude of a fan base that will wonder why he had to be forced out.

Paterno State University 1, Abuse Victims 0.

That’s the real scoreboard by which Paterno has chosen to be remembered. The same lack of compassion that caused Paterno to make a perfunctory, late report to a campus administrator about something “inappropriate” (his unfortunate words) involving former defensive coordinator and lifelong Paterno friend, Jerry Sandusky, is the same lack of compassion being exhibited by Paterno now. It’s sad, really, where we as a society cannot fully embrace the real victims of abuse and yet will give a pass to Paterno’s own despicable conduct in this whole thing.

Make no mistake about it. Allowing Paterno, the 84-year old coach whose contract expires at the end of the season anyway, to retire at season’s end rather then cutting ties now is only slightly less of a despicable reaction then if Paterno had been allowed to coach still another year. Yes, it’s that bad.

You can’t expect drunken college students to understand the human tragedy of this situation, which is why they showed up en masse at Paterno’s house on Tuesday evening to cheer him on. But we all should have expected better from Paterno then and now and yet again he’s failed to do the right thing.

If Paterno really did have a moral compass that he could consult, it would have immediately told him that the only response was an immediate resignation and a pledge to never stop raising funds for those innocent victims of Sandusky’s conduct. But hey the Nittany Lions are 12th ranked at the moment and have 3 games left in a season that could result in them playing in the first ever Big Ten Championship. There are priorities and when the season ends they'll still be abuse victims so what's the rush to start the healing?

He did give a minor shout out of sorts to the abuse victims when his student supporters visited him Tuesday evening, but most of his words were reserved for himself and assuring his supporters that he is indeed doing fine. Nice to know. I wonder how that poor child who allegedly was being sodomized in 2002 was feeling right about the time he discovered that students were clapping out their support for the man that did little to stop the abuser from striking again or paying a price.

I’d like to think that at some point soon Paterno will come to his senses and realize that a year end resignation is such a worthless and disrespectful response that he’ll change his mind and turn over the reigns immediately. But I won’t hold my breath.

Paterno couldn’t do the right thing in 2002, when he wasn’t nearly as senile as he apparently is now, so why should we expect him to act in a more dignified manner now? He couldn’t comprehend then how truly despicable the allegations against his buddy Sandusky were then so why should he understand how awful it is for him to remain in his current position is now?

A year end resignation and the eternal gratitude of Penn State Nation seems just a little too good for what Paterno really deserves. If the there was any justice, Paterno’s statute on the campus would be taken down, his office cleaned out, and he be shipped off to wherever codgers like him go to contemplate why they ultimately did little to prevent more kids from becoming Sandusky victims.

The only real hope for righting this ship is for the Penn State Board of Trustees to step in the breach at this moment and say, “not so fast, Joe.” But they are no more in charge of the university then the worthless figurehead who calls himself president at the moment. It’s Paterno’s college and he’s going to be allowed to do any damn thing he wants. Besides they were likely complicit in arranging this soft landing for Paterno, viewing it as a win/win situation for everyone; everyone that is within the Penn State family.

Paterno State University 1, Abuse Victims 0.

The scandal at Penn State, both the actual tragedy and the unbelievably awful reaction by the adults in charge, then and now, makes this far and away the biggest scandal in NCAA football, ever. It’s the worst kind of reality show and the issues it highlights go so far beyond what takes place between the lines on Saturday that it’s almost unfair to think of it as merely a football scandal. Indeed it’s a human tragedy made all the worse, if that's even possible, because it took place at an institution of higher learning and moral upbringing and was facilitated by trusted figures who, when push came to shove, chose the wrong priority to serve.

Reading the grand jury transcripts and the charges levied against Sandusky are stunning in their import. Whether you have children or not, only the absolute worst among us cannot help but be struck for how awful all of this must been for the victims. If the allegations are true, then Sandusky was worse than a garden variety sick bastard child pornographer. Sandusky’s alleged crimes involve unthinkable pedophilia of a kind so depraved that it’s actually hard to believe that it could exist in a civilized society.

What is it about the human condition that brings people to such unspeakable acts? And what of the underlying psychology of it all?

You don’t have to be a psychologist to understand that the abuse Sandusky allegedly heaped on some of his victims, taking place as it did in public places, was not so much a brazen act of defiance as it was a sign that Sandusky wanted to be caught. And he was, at least twice from what the reports indicate. Yet, it was to no avail and by all accounts the abuse continued because those trusted to do the right thing, like Paterno, didn’t.

Maybe Paterno couldn’t comprehend the human tragedy, either, and that’s why he made only the slightest of gestures to stop it all. In one sense it’s easy to understand how that can happen. But in the larger sense, if someone in Paterno’s role doesn’t do the right thing, who would? That’s why this whole thing is where it’s at today.

Paterno has hung around the Penn State program probably decades past his expiration date from a purely coaching standpoint. But the fact that he did hang around for so long doesn’t just suggest but demands that he go to greater lengths then anyone at Penn State to ensure that its moral compass never get questioned.

Well, surprise, surprise. Paterno didn’t do the right thing then and didn’t do the right thing now. At least he’s consistent. I guess stress does bring out the true character of a person.


Anonymous said...

I read the grand jury report a couple of days ago. In 2002--not, let's say, 1972--the then-graduate assistant doesn't take the victim away from his tormenter and find protection for him. He doesn't go to the cops. He goes to Paterno. A cover up begins. The GA becomes a coach. Sandusky is told to take it somewhere else. Paterno goes on for another decade. The pattern of abuse continues. This just gets uglier every day. And Joe Pa should fall on the sword and do the right thing--no goodbyes, no farewells, but an admission that he screwed up that opportunity to ride out on a white horse at least nine years ago. Oy!

Anonymous said...

Gary, you are right on with this blog. Paterno and Penn State makes Tressel and the OSU debacle look like jaywalking. Absolutely disgusting. College Football and the NCAA are now officially morally bankrupt, as are Penn State and Paterno. I will never watch another NCAA Division I college football game again. It is beyond vile.