Et tu, Joe

After introducing myself to the community through this column, I soon wrote opposing pieces on the tremendous life benefits taught through sport and then on the evil of sport perpetrated by the unbelievable power and money that are a part of today’s athletic scene.  I continue to coach, write this column, and remain a fan because I hold a steadfast belief in the value of participation in sports.  Those in the sports world playing their lives out in front of today’s media are making it all the tougher to defend my position.  The list is long.  In recent years we have heard about a mysterious death (Ray Lewis), womanizing (Tiger), steroids (Barry Bonds, et al.), dogfighting and gambling (Michael Vick), but nothing can come close to the Penn State story that broke earlier in November.

Although not a graduate, my Pennsylvania born parents groomed me to be a Penn State fan from the time I was a toddler.  In fact the first game I truly remember was Joe’s first, a narrow victory over Maryland that foretold nothing of what the future would hold.  Paterno’s first win came before 37,000 fans at Beaver Stadium.  Capacity in those days was 46,000.  Today’s capacity is 107,000, making it the third largest city in Pennsylvania on game day.  That poorly played game brought numerous boos from the fans.  Joe was so disgusted with his offense that he actually punted twice on third down.  He then went on to win more games than any coach in history.

In building the greatest legacy in sports history, Paterno always seemed to do everything the right way.  As a Brown educated scholar, Joe built a program where graduation rates were the highest in the land.  He routinely went on the stump to raise money for academic causes.  The story is that he donated much of his salary back to the University.  Fan or not, the college football community looked up and honored the man that was still winning games as an 84 year old.

But then the shoe dropped.  I’ve been around long enough to know that in situations like this, if one person knows then everybody knows.  My guess is that Jerry Sandusky’s dirty secret was the reason for his abrupt retirement in 1999.  There are claims by Paterno that he did the legally required thing in reporting Sandusky’s actions to his boss.

More, however, should have been expected from the man who built an image of always following the moral high ground.  The fact that the reputation of a defensive coordinator and a football program outweighed the horror that these children faced is inexcusable.

I love Joe Paterno and Penn State football.  For three weeks I have struggled to put any of this on paper.  This column has been written, rewritten and agonized over.  I am, for the most part, at a loss for words.  The State of Pennsylvania seems to be heading in the right direction.  EVERYONE who has any connections to this case has got to go. 

Hopefully the University can persuade a Tony Dungy, or similar person to come in and take over this program.  In any case, healing is going to be a long process.

If this can happen at Penn State and with Joe Paterno, it can happen anywhere.  Football coaches are often the most powerful figure on campus.  In JoPa’s case, he was probably the most powerful person in the entire STATE.  We travel a slippery slope.  As John Emerich Edward Dalberg wrote in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”  

Can playing in a BCS Bowl really be this important?



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