Thursday, November 10, 2011

Legacy Redefined

Not the ending Joe Paterno envisioned. (Photo by Lon Horwedel)

It wasn’t a great week to be a college football fan. In light of the Penn State football sex scandal that gets more incredibly vile by the minute, it wasn’t even a great week to be a human being.

Heads are rolling this morning, most notably legendary coach Joe Paterno’s, after his former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky’s brutal, sexual tirades on underprivileged youths were finally unearthed after years of what appears to be a massive coverup by the university, the local police, or anyone else who seemed too chicken shit to stand up against the football powerhouse PSU, and take the side of the innocent boys who were allegedly preyed upon by Sandusky.

Penn State students rioted last night when they found out Paterno had been fired. A television van was flipped, rocks were thrown through windows, and it looked for all the world like another Kent State circa 1970 was about to happen when Mother Nature moved in and sprayed the crowd with a cold, driving rain, doing what the riot police’s pepper spray couldn’t – send everyone home.

It was ugly, but there was no way this thing was ever going to have a pretty ending. If the board of trustees had left everything as it were and kept Paterno on until the end of the season, it would have just compounded the problem, festering the boil of public opinion that had so many talking heads spewing on and on about the topic.

They did what many folks, outside the PSU student body, considered the “right” thing to do - they fired him. They also fired university president Graham Spanier, but not then graduate assistant Mike McQueary, who walked in on Sandusky allegedly sodomizing a 10-year-old boy in the football facility showers in 2002.

McQueary's actions, or inactions, also have created a big stir in the office of public opinion. His initial response was to run away from the scene in disbelief before calling his father for advice. His father advised him to tell coach Paterno about what he witnessed, which he did. Paterno then told the PSU Athletic Director Tim Curley who relayed it to Spainer, but with each successive leap up the chain of command, somehow the information fell victim to a grown up version of the telephone game where “sodomy” morphed into “horsing around.”

Sports radio hosts, their callers, Internet chatters, and just about everyone else is lambasting McQueary for not doing more. “If I were him (McQueary), I would have beat Sandusky to within an inch of his life,” seems to be a popular response from many callers or online commenters who have responded on the topic.

The truth is, none of us really know how we would react in that situation. It’s easy with hindsight on our side to say how we think we’d react, but we don’t really know. I’m pretty sure Mike McQueary never asked for any of this to happen to him, just like Sandusky’s alleged victims never asked to be sodomized in a Penn State football facility shower.

“Why didn’t he go to the police?” “Why didn’t he stop it?” People want to know. The righteous are pissed, and maybe deservedly so, but why don’t battered women leave their husbands? Why don’t people leave their shitty jobs?

It’s never as cut and dried as we’d like it to be, and suddenly we’re all experts on the situation, even when we’re far removed from it.

Early this morning, TV crews were on Paterno’s doorstep looking for his reaction. It seems as if Paterno has been itching to talk, but his attorneys haven’t let him say much of anything. His wife was at his side as he briefly addressed the crowd of reporters and students gathered at his doorstep still not saying much of anything. She looked horrified and confused. Much of the country feels the same way.

It’s hard to say what’s going on in Paterno’s mind. For the past several years the popular belief has been that Joe Pa hasn’t really been running the football program anyway, he’s just their figurehead, their messiah – a grandfatherly figure to everyone at the school, football player or otherwise.

Maybe he didn’t know the full context of what was going on, but if it turns out he did (and we may never know) then the people in State College, and the rest of the country for that matter, will have lost a lot of faith in human kind, and Happy Valley won’t be very happy at all.

1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately, I think my experience in this area of judgment would have had a more confrontational result that McQueary's decision. I do understand how he could have been overwhelmed, but as to those who were informed later...

    As harsh as it may sound, Coach Paterno got what he deserved from the administration. Whether it was done to protect the Penn State brand or because it was out of a sense of justice, ultimately Coach Paterno had a price to pay.

    I think that if there was anyone who knew what had happened, it was between McQueary and Paterno. I do believe the head coach knew a lot more than he will ever reveal and that is why when it went 'up the chain of command', it was softballed. To be honest, the 'chain' began at Coach Paterno's desk and once he did not take punitive action, then everyone else begin to pass the buck on responsibility.

    Of course, I am also talking out of my arse, because I don't know any more than you. But drawing on experience, I do think that some of the similarities are eerie and these kinds of cases do have commonalities...

    It is too bad because he did have such a good and lasting legacy... it will always be tarnished by this stain...