I’ve been away for a while, but for good reason, which we will not go into. Here we go!
The Penn State massacre
Penn State’s investigation into the Jerry Sandusky scandal ended today with the release of the Feech report, named for its head investigator, Louis Freeh. The report states that the powers that be, including the late coach Joe Paterno, actively colluded to conceal and contain the allegations against Sandusky. There is a lot more to it, but the short version is that they placed the Penn State football program above the safety and welfare of the children.
It is my sincerest hope that this report, coupled with the 45 convictions against Sandusky, as well as his sentencing later this summer, will end the scandal, and the echoes of it will stop bouncing off the walls. For every place except Penn State, of course. There is will resonate, and continue to hurt for generations, as the firing of Joe Paterno and his passing a few months later left a giant scar on the campus, a scar arguably bigger than the entire Sandusky scandal.
As for the rest of the country, this puts enough nails in the coffin of the regime that oversaw the cover up for them to never see daylight again. The worst part is that while they can defend themselves, the public has heard so much about the scandal, and has been saturated by it, that no one really cares.
Which brings me to the family of Joe Paterno. I recognize that losing their father, husband, or grandfather in that time could not have been pleasant, but they need to stop defending him. I am not saying that they personally need to accept that Joe Paterno’s legacy will be tainted, but they need to accept that the public at large accepts it. I mean, Jay Paterno goes on Sportscenter trying to defend his dad speaks volumes to his devotion, but he needs to take a step back and realize that he is not fighting an uphill battle, but rather he is trying to go up a cliff without climbing equipment.
The Legacy of Joe Paterno
I found myself thinking about John C. Calhoun during much of the Penn State fallout. John C. Calhoun was a South Carolina politician in the 19th century, who advocated both states’ rights and slavery. He was a great American statesman too. I was wondering how much the fact that he was a slaveholder should be held against him when assessing his impact and legacy.
Although it’s not completely analogous, I view this in similar vein to Joe Paterno and the Sandusky scandal. Will we, with time, view him as a great football coach, who made one fatal error? Will we view him, as I suspect many Penn State alumni might come to, as a great football coach who loved his program so much he took action to protect it, and committed a grave error as a result? Will he be viewed positively, negatively? Will the scandal be merely the last chapter of his career, or will it forever cast a shadow over forty plus years of service?
The fact of the matter is that Paterno ran the football program, and if you believe several former administrative officials who worked at Penn State, his weight there was far heavier than that title implies. Another fact is that Paterno should have retired years ago, when he was coaching his 40th season. If we have learned anything from the lessons of Tom Landry, and more recently, Bobby Bowden, we know that it is difficult to get long term coaches to leave voluntarily, but that’s not to say that Paterno didn’t realize that. He should have left and handed the head coaching job to someone he had trained and groomed to replace him, which for a while was actually Jerry Sandusky.
The Paterno family, and any Paterno supporters, if they want to keep swinging, need to stop attacking the attackers, and use a simpler logic: Joe Paterno trusted Sandusky, thought the allegations were false, and hid them for that reason. He feared for the program when he realized there might be truth to them.
Where Does Penn State go from here?
Penn State needs to consider canceling their football program. Yes, I said it, but note I said consider. I’m not saying they need to do it, but they need to publicly discuss it as an option. It would show contrition from the trustees and university for failing to properly oversee the program, and while it would take a few years to rebuild it once it resumes, it would effectively negate any investigation from the NCAA, as well as provide assurances that no head football coach would wield such power ever again.
Will they do this? Of course not. Penn State wants to rebuild, but self-terminating a storied and valuable program is crazy; in this instance, though, not so crazy that it isn’t worth considering here. However, it is the smart move, since the university could potentially prevent many major donors from leaving, which in the short term may not mean much, but long term means a lot more.
Penn State needs to move on, the Paterno family especially needs to move on, and the story needs to get off the airwaves. There are a ton of reasons why it keeps coming back, but most of those are scheduling-related; i.e. the Sandusky trial and verdict had dates we knew were coming; the report had a date when it would come out; hopefully, with only the sentencing of Jerry Sandusky remaining (even though the minimum is still effectively a life sentence, I hope he gets the max), I hope that this story can fade away, save for hearing about the children Sandusky victimized overcoming their pain and doing great things with their lives.