November 10, 2011

Blind faith in Happy Valley.

From 2004 to 2008, I attended Boston University. Many of my fellow students fell in love with the oft-competitive hockey team, and a few even got into Terrier basketball. But college athletics have never been my bag, and that didn't change just because I was now in college. I went to maybe three hockey games in four years and never really regretted a thing.

So I don't understand how the students of Penn State University, past and present, feel about Joe Paterno and the Nittany Lions football program.

And frankly, I don't want to understand.

I get that this scandal is swirling up boatloads of emotions -- mostly anger at the accused perpetrator and compassion towards the victims -- and I know that many of the people who care the most are those who have attended, taught at or otherwise supported Penn State and the school's football program.

But when Joe Paterno was fired last night, an uncomfortable amount of emphasis was placed on his legacy, his own personal struggles over the past week, his previous battles with PSU's Board of Trustees and other matters that have nothing to do with the current situation.

Even if Paterno is innocent of all legal wrongdoing, even if he followed procedure to the letter when dealing with rumors of Jerry Sandusky's foul play, the fact remains that a pedophile spent years in a position of power, legitimate or implied, on the Penn State campus, many of them coming after investigations were launched into his wrongdoings with young children. If that shouldn't be rectified with a complete ousting of all of the university's leading personnel, football or otherwise, then I don't know what should.

I tweeted earlier this week that Joe Paterno, like Jon Arryn of Game of Thrones, has been Lord of the Eyrie for far too long. For those non-nerds out there, the Eyrie is an impregnable fortress on top of a mountain, one that often chooses not to get involved in matters of worldwide importance. And quaint little State College, Pennsylvania, while not perched high in the sky, is equally as isolated from the rest of college athletics. Once a bastion of respectability and honor, we now see that foul play at Penn State was not only prevalent, it was swept under the rug when deemed inconvenient by coaches and administrators alike.

Since his promotion to head coach in 1966, Joe Paterno rose to become king of Happy Valley. He was beloved by the students and revered by former players. Did all this power cloud his judgment when it came to Sandusky's transgressions? Did it lead to Sandusky's abrupt "retirement" in 1999, an event that many have linked to an investigation into his behavior in 1998, a sort of "out of sight, out of mind" policy that may have saved the university the "trouble" of increased snooping and, eventually, legal liability?

Either way, Joe Paterno has been relieved of his abilities to directly influence matters at Penn State. He's now an unemployed, disgraced old man, one who has made at least a few dubious ethical decisions over the last decade; decisions that may have led to the continued molestation of numerous young children. And to look upon that with anything but scorn and dismay blows my mind.

To anyone with common sense, Joe Paterno's time as a respected leader of young men is at an end. And good riddance. For some, though, he's still their coach, one who won a bunch of football games, donated a bunch of money, and then was caught up in a whirlwind that only included him tangentially and therefore shouldn't land on his plate.

But as Bruce Springsteen once said, "Blind faith in your leaders, or in anything, will get you killed." Sandusky may be innocent until proven guilty, but the facts have been pretty neatly laid out: He did wrong, and Paterno was aware. Blind faith in a football coach may not get you killed, but it will make you truly blind to what really matters.


Unknown said...

Just want t like this post, Steve. :)

Cohill said...

Well stated, Mino.

cifuentj said...

so did he come or what?