PSU May Need Paterno Now More Than Ever

by TideGP (follow me on Twitter @TideGP)



In an extremely rare turn of events, scandal has reached the campus of Penn State.

Not your typical venue for a scandal in athletics, especially for this the type of scandal and the depths it may reach.  News is still developing, but for sake of the points I’ll be making in this article, and for those living under a veritable “sports news rock”:  Nittany Lions former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky has been charged with serial sexual child abuse over the course of 15 years.

Two prominent members of  PSU athletics have also been charged with perjury related to the case, legendary coach Joe Paterno has already testified to a grand jury, the trustees have pledged to make changes and the public is crying for crying for someone’s head on a platter. 

Who’s head?  Most likely, Paterno’s.

It’s totally understandable why folks want heads to roll–this isn’t a recruiting or money scandal.  This time children were hurt, trusts were broken, lives altered.  It’s an insidious scandal of the highest proportions and from the sounds of things, it went on a LONG time.  15 years.  A decade and a half while others either knew, suspected, or otherwise had knowledge of the occurences.  The system at Penn State failed. 

The knee jerk reaction is to clean house and get rid of anyone and everyone that was involved.  But take a step back folks.  These are serious allegations and in the real world, that means you better be damn sure you know the facts and act in a way that doesn’t compound the situation.  PSU has already failed at this once, now is when they need to show courage and, with an eye to the future, work towards repairing what was truly wrong instead of acting just to mollify the public outrage.

Like most of us, I don’t know Joe Paterno.  I do know his reputation, and its a long, sterlingly good reputation. Assuming his reputation is valid, and I have no reason to believe it isn’t, you have to believe that Paterno is being truthful about what he knew, or in this case, did not know.  Coach Paterno is arguably the last of the old school coaches, and among the very few active with enough clout to wave the morality flag, be adamanant about running a clean program, care about developing the young men that join the football program and it mean something.  He stands on a pedestal of virtue in the eyes of many which makes it all the more shocking that something like this occured under his watch… Or should it really be that surprising?

One might analogize that Paterno is the wise and venerable grandfather of college football. Let’s think about that analogy.  Hypothetically suppose there’s a family reunion, and word comes out that cousin Ellie recently had an abortion.  Would it be a shocker that the general family consensus be: “Don’t let grandpa hear about that!”?  Nope. It’s a natural instinct to want to protect those you care about from shame.  That said, is it really beyond comprehension that Paterno might well have been the victim of his own reputation, of his intolerance for ANYTHING improper and may very well have had the truth hidden from him by those around him?  I think not.  From what I’m hearing, I think that is the true breakdown here.

There were bad decisions made–LOTS of bad decisions.  Reports were passed up the administration chain but somehow stopped before getting into the hands of the proper authorities.  Officials lied.  I think the worst decision could have been attempting to “shield” Paterno from a scandal involving someone they felt Paterno respected. To protect them both, to shield Paterno from shame. Again,  IMHO, what they should have done was put this in Paterno’s lap and let him handle it from the start.  Paterno’s “old school” higher standard should have been used as a tool in this situation instead being treated as a prized relic that needs to be sheltered behind museum glass.

Moving forward PSU needs to recognize they need to repair the problem, not quick fix it; that Paterno may be the best qualified to repair the system, rather than becoming the iconic scapegoat for a systemic breakdown.  I daresay he’s owed that much after almost five decades of leading by example.  Now’s not the time to toss out the one good apple in the barrel of bad ones.  Mistakes happen, this one was huge, but we learn from our mistakes or we repeat them.  In order to heal, restore and revive its reputation, PSU now more than ever needs to embrace Paterno’s ideals, or risk falling into the same mediocrity of other programs where scandal regularly rears it ugly head.  

I pray that this doesn’t become a part of  Joe Paterno’s legacy:  a man that dared to do the right thing, live his life the right way, accomplished great things for himself and those under him.  I pray that he doesn’t became the last victim in a scandal because those who were in positions of  trust to help uphold those standards feared they could not live up to his expectations, feared reproach from the great man,  and chose the path of cowardice.

Again, this article assumes a lot that can only be confirmed by those that were there.  It is my personal hope that, from what I’ve come to believe of the man, Paterno was kept from the truth.  For the sake of the man, for the sake of Penn State, I hope that insight is shown by the PSU trustees with an eye to the future, and they proven  they’ve learned at least two values from Paterno:  loyalty and courage.

Note:  Since the time this article was written, Joe Paterno has announced his retirement at the end of the 2011 season.  His statement can be found here:



~ by Gut Check Admin on November 9, 2011.

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