Future of Penn State Football, Paterno Statue Up In The Air
Sunday, July 15, 2012
I am a columnist and a sports talk show host. And, as both, it is my responsibility to give my opinion on whatever the hot topics in sports are on any given day.
Some days are easier than others. You research a topic and form a strong opinion and share that opinion with your readers and/or listeners. Sometimes they agree with you, other times they don’t. It’s the nature of the business.
But there are also times when a topic cannot be broken down simply in terms of black and white, of right and wrong. Sometimes there are many shades of gray which makes it that much more difficult to give a strong and educated opinion on a subject.
To some in my profession, believing or having conviction in your opinion isn’t necessary. Some simply choose to stir the pot because it sells newspapers, draws eyeballs to a website or is good for the ratings. I am not one of those guys.
If I am going to write about something on this website of talk about it on the radio, you can be sure that it is something that I believe in.
This brings me to the fiasco that is the fallout at Penn State from the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal.
I am sure that Sandusky is a scumbag with a capital “S.” To do what he has been convicted of is absolutely, positively disgusting. To think of all of the innocent young boys whose lives he ruined is very sad.
However, when it comes to what to do with the Penn State football program or Joe Paterno’s statue outside of Beaver Stadium, coming up with a definitive solution isn’t so simple.
The knee-jerk reaction to what we have learned in recent days from the Freeh Report is to say, “give Penn State football the death penalty and take down Paterno’s statue immediately!”
But are those really the steps that should be taken at this point and time?
Only once has the NCAA handed down the death penalty to a member school’s football program. That was at SMU back in 1987. Everything from major recruiting violations to players being paid by boosters ultimately led the NCAA to drop the hammer on SMU.
Among the criteria for the NCAA’s findings in regard to SMU was the fact that there was a “pattern of willful violations” and that there was clearly a “lack of institutional control.”
At Penn State, while there were technically no NCAA rules violations, the school’s hierarchy clearly violated the rules of human decency. To cover-up Sandusky’s evil doing for at least 14 years seems beyond comprehension. That the reputation of the football program was more important to the school’s president, vice president, athletic director and head football coach than the well-being of young children who were being raped is unthinkable.
But, can the NCAA step in and legislate such a matter? Or, should they simply let our country’s legal system take care of the guilty parties?
While it seems like there was clearly a “lack of institutional control” at Penn State, is this a matter for the NCAA to decide?
And what if the NCAA decides to give Penn State football the death penalty? Is that fair to new head coach Bill O’Brien and his staff who had nothing to do with what happened at the school on Joe-Pa’s watch? What about the student-athletes that play football at Penn State? Yes, they would be allowed to transfer immediately without penalty to other schools should the program get the death penalty, but would this be fair to them?
And then there’s the matter of Joe Paterno’s legacy and his statue which will apparently remain standing at the university for the time being. If, indeed, Paterno did know that his former assistant was raping children and he chose to keep it quiet, then the statue almost certainly must come down. And that does appear to be the case according to the Freeh Report.
However, there is also no debating all of the good that Paterno did at Penn State in his 61 years in State College. Talk to almost anyone who played for Paterno and they will tell you that he was like a father figure to them.
In addition to that, Paterno seemingly ran a highly successful football program without breaking the rules as so many of today’s football factories seem to do.
Somebody told me many years ago that sometimes good people do bad things. I can’t help but think that this adage applies to the late Joe Paterno.
But, for a man whose legacy and reputation seemed so iron-clad just a year ago, it would appear that it will be essentially wiped away for some very poor decisions he made in regard to his former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
This is what is so hard about debating what should be done with his statue. By all accounts, Paterno was a good man. However, his one horrific decision to not report Sandusky to authorities supersedes his legend as one of the greatest football coaches of all-time and ultimately makes him not worthy of a bronze statue at Penn State or anywhere else for that matter.
Various reports over the weekend said that the school had decided to keep the statue up at Beaver Stadium. However, Sunday night, the school issued this statement: "Contrary to various reports, neither the Board of Trustees nor University Administration has taken a vote or made a decision regarding the Joe Paterno statue at Beaver Stadium."
Within hours of the Freeh Report’s release, NIKE announced that Paterno’s name was being removed from a child development center at the NIKE campus in Beaverton, Oregon. Also, Brown University has taken Paterno’s name off of an award handed out annually to the school’s “outstanding freshman athlete.”
And, maybe even more appropriate was the actions taken by artist Michael Pilato painted over the halo he had posthumously added to a painting of Paterno at State College.
It may only be the beginning.