I’d like to take a little break from the whole “figuring out what to do with my life” theme for a few minutes to write about a subject it seems nearly everyone else in the known world has commented on by now – Joe Paterno and the seeming impending collapse of the Penn State football program.
I should probably say at the start that I don’t care one bit about college football. I’ve only attended one college football game in my whole life, a game between the University of Kentucky Wildcats (Yes, they do actually have a football team.) and an opponent I can’t even remember (The ‘Cats lost. Even if I couldn’t remember that, it would be a pretty safe guess since that’s the outcome of most UK football games.). The appeal of the BCS is completely lost on me, and since I’m not a particularly big fan of the NFL, I don’t care much about where any of the players are going after they graduate.
As a result, I’m only vaguely familiar with the concept of Joe Paterno and his influence at State College in Pennsylvania. I know he won a whole bunch of football games, and … well, that’s about all I know. As a result of the horrific ordeal currently going on involving former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, however, I have picked up a few more tidbits concerning the man many call “Joe Pa” over the past couple of weeks. His programs have never come under any notable NCAA scrutiny. A very high percentage of the players who played under him graduated. And, in a day and age where college football coaches are commonly millionaires, he and his wife continued to live a fairly modest lifestyle.
In short, he seems like a pretty decent guy.
If the current mess at Penn State has taught the world anything, though, it’s that things can be radically different from what they seem. The most amazing thing to me about the Sandusky situation is that there seems to be no bottom as to how awful this all can get. Literally, every time I’ve thought to myself “It can’t possibly get any worse than this,” it has, indeed, gotten worse. There are simply not enough words to describe how horrific this story is turning out to be.
I’m not going to recap the whole story here; you can Google the words “Penn State” or “Jerry Sandusky” or “Joe Paterno” and find out more than you probably ever wanted to know about what’s going on. What I keep pondering is what’s not out there.
Anytime there is a violation of trust, there are two things to consider – what is known (which usually consists of some type of identifiable act or transgression resulting in a loss of confidence) and what can henceforth be speculated upon. For example, if a man is found to be cheating on his spouse, there is usually one particular transgression which acts as the catalyst. The wife will most likely learn about one woman the husband has stepped out with. Once the initial shock has worn off, though, the wife will usually begin to wonder, “If there was one, how many more were there?”.
It is here I find myself with Joe Paterno. Jerry Sandusky has actually been charged with multiple counts of his infraction. Thus far, Paterno has basically only been accused of not reporting to the proper authorities one instance of a very major crime allegedly being committed by one of his assistance coaches. If, though, Paterno was willing to look the other way (And let’s face it, reporting something like this to the athletic director because “it’s protocol” is as close to turning a blind eye as someone in Paterno’s position could get.) on a grown man molesting a child in a shower, what other things might he have let slide?
As I mentioned earlier, Paterno was known for running a clean program. It seems these days, though, there are 1 million-and-one ways to break NCAA rules. Paterno had been walking the Penn State sidelines for longer than I have been alive until he was fired last week. His teams may not have contended for national title every year, but they were always very good. How do programs stay that good for that long? They work hard, they prepare well, they recruit the best players, they respect their coach. Or…
I am not aware of any evidence Joe Paterno violated one single NCAA rule during his days of coaching football at Penn State. He may have run the cleanest program ever in the history of collegiate athletics. The fact remains, though, that he essentially covered up a stunningly atrocious crime by one of his assistant coaches in an effort to preserve the football empire he was largely responsible for creating at State College. And if a man is capable of that, who knows what else he would be willing to do?