No excuses for Paterno: legacy forever ruined

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

This morning, the highly anticpated Freeh Report was released pertaining to Penn State University’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal.

For people who have followed this story, the findings were about as bad as they could have been. They were also not very surprising.

The more I read about this story, the angrier I become at Penn State. How in the world did Joe Paterno and the Penn State administration live with themselves? After allegations of sexual abuse against Sandusky in 1998, he remained connected to the program during his retirement. Despite knowledge of these allegations, still gave Sandusky access to facilities. That’s bad enoguh in itself.

Then. In 2001, Mike McQueary caught Sandusky in the act again. And Penn State largely ignored this vilation. As bad as it was that Sandusky was still connected to the program after the initial allegations, it seems like when the 2001 incident occurred, someone, somewhere in the university would have finally said, “Ok. Enough is enough. The proper authorities must be made aware of this.” Yet this didn’t happen. How did these people live with themselves, and look in the mirror, and hug their children and grandkids?

If there was any doubt about the impact that this scandal would have on his legacy, I think the debate has ended. His legacy isn’t tarnished. It’s absolutely destroyed. When Woody Hays was fired from Ohio State for hitting a player, that legacy was tarnished. Paterno will never be looked at the same way. Apologists shouldn’t waste their time. The sympathy isn’t going to be found.

Paterno is more in a class of an OJ Simpson. Obviously, I’m not saying that what he did was as bad as OJ literally committing two murders. But the thing that Paterno allowed to happen by doing nothing should have weighed just as heavily on his conscience.

At Paterno’s memorial service in January, Nike chairman Phil Knight was one of the speakers and remarked: Today, Nike announced that their medical center which is named after Paterno will drop his name. Ironically, Nike chairman Phil Knight stood up for Paterno at his January memorial service: “In the year in question, he gave full disclosure to his superiors up the chain to head of campus police and president of the school. The matter was in the hands of a world-class university and by a president with an outstanding national reputation. Whatever the details of the investigation are, this much is clear to me–there was a villain in this tragedy. It lies in that investigation, not in Joe Paterno’s response to it.”

The newly released Freeh report shows otherwise.

What’s more, I’ve heard excuses that Paterno was old, or that he didn’t know what was happening. He was much more involved in this story and its cover up than what was originally thought. Paterno lied. Shortly before his January death from lung cancer, in his interview with the Washington post, Paterno remarked, “I never heard of, of, rape and a man. So I just did what I thought was best. I talked to people that I thought would be, if there was a problem, that would be following up on it.”

Some may still try to look on the rosy side of Paterno’s career. For generations, he ran a program that had a reputation for being clean and one that followed the rules. In a major college athlethics world fraught with scandals and programs cheating to get ahead, Penn State seemed to be a higher standard.

But who cares about that now? So what if Paterno had integrity to the NCAA rules when he lacked the morality and decency to do the right thing?

We can focus on the positive impact that he had on the lives of so many of his players. But this is Penn State football! To paraphrase an idea from Yahoo sports columnist Dan Wetsel in an interview today, the guys who play there could have played anywhhere. We’re talking about extremely talented athletes. These guys could have been just as successful if they had decided to play at Ohio State, or Michigan, or Alabama, or Notre Dame, or USC.

It’s not like Paterno was Gordon Bombay taking the ragtag kids in the Mighty Ducks and making them believe in themselves.

When Paterno died, so many fond comments and anecdotes and stories of inspiration were recounted by his former players. People used to say good things about Jerry Sandusky too.

Others have talked about the millions of dollars that Paterno donated to the university and various charities. But so what? During the Great Depression, Al Capone funded his own soup kitchen here in Chicago. Did tat make Capone a good person?

Some try to sugarcoat things. Paterno was mostly good but he made one big mistake.

No. Forgetting to claim something on your taxes is a mistake. Paterno and the rest of the Penn State administration took no legitimate measures to stop a pedophile for over a decade! Furthermore it’s not just about “making a mistake,” for years, Paterno and the Penn State administration could have stepped up and done the right thing. And they never did. T took Sandusky being indicted.

As it has already been addressed, the chairman of Nike originally stood up for Paterno. The company’s property has a childcare facility named after the coach called the Joe Paterno Child Development Center. Although the shoe company has said that they will be removing the name. There have also been questions about the future of the statue that bares Patern’s image on the Penn State campus.

I think the university would be foolish to keep the statue. Penn State needs to do everything it can to distance themselves from the Paterno name.

It may seem unfortunate, but I think the young men who were being sexually assaulted while the university closed its eyes is unortuante and tragic, and I’m not really concerned about how people will remember the individuals who allowed these assaults to continue.

As Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

This post has focused on Paterno. Spanier, Curley, and Schultz are all just as guilty in this. But people aren’t going to remember those people in 50 years. Paterno: a larger than life icon. At least, he was.

The common theory has been that they wanted to protect the program. If Penn State had actually dealt with this in the late 90s, it would have been a black eye and bad for public relations, but it would have been greatly mitigated compared to what the university has faced over the past eight months. And Penn State should have done it then. Not because of public relations but because it was obviously the right thing to do. But because of their selfishness, the program is in shambles, the world-class university has become a punchline, and more young men were victimized.


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