Sunday, November 13, 2011

Paterno's Self-Suppression of Power Protected Wrong People

The irony is, Joe Paterno could have covered the spread easily.

He had home field advantage. He had all the weapons at his disposal. It was a cupcake on the schedule. One of those pre-conference games against an opponent whose only goals were to get out of town with their wits and a cool paycheck from the gate.

Paterno could have swatted this one away with hardly breaking a sweat.

When you’re Joe Paterno, iconic football coach at a big time university, you can do some things. It’s like a playbook on 2nd and 1. There are options not available to a lower profile coach.

Football coaches like Paterno, who’s been at Penn State since the Lyndon Johnson administration, don’t walk around campus—they are the campus. They get things named after them—streets, buildings and practice facilities.

They make friends in high places. They show up at a restaurant and the staff can’t seat them quickly enough.

Coaches like Paterno, if they appear in a commercial for a dry cleaners, can put all the other dry cleaners around campus out of business.

Paterno, 84, looks like someone Al Pacino is set to play at the drop of a hat.

Lombardi had the gap-toothed grin.

Bear Bryant had the checkered hat.

Bo Schembechler had the sunglasses under the baseball cap with the block M.

Woody Hayes had the white shirt and the skinny black tie.

Paterno has the big glasses and the big nose and the raspy, New York accent. Pacino could play him in his sleep.

Paterno is as iconic as it gets in the world of college athletics—forget just football.

So let’s be real.

Joe Paterno wasn’t at any disadvantage, when presented with evidence that his defensive coordinator had sexually assaulted a young boy—in a Penn State football facility, no less.

Paterno—his name ironically so close to sounding like “paternal”—could have snapped his fingers and the weight of the university’s tradition, standards of excellence and integrity would have collapsed onto coach Jerry Sandusky like a 16 ton weight.

Sandusky would have been ruined—much sooner than he now is, and before untold numbers of additional boys were harmed.

Paterno could have rained hell down on Sandusky, had Paterno wanted.


“In hindsight I wish I would have done more,” Paterno said in a prepared statement he released last week, when the tempest of the disgusting news swirling around PSU’s campus began to release its stench.

Paterno was referring to his role in the allegations—the role where he was told about Sandusky’s assault of a boy in a shower, and merely passed the charge on to the athletic director.

Paterno could have gone in for the kill. He had the other guys on their heels, in the shadow of their own end zone.

But Paterno chose to keep all of his power sheathed. It was a kneel down, a mercy job.

Sadly, Paterno chose to protect the wrong person.

A man of Joe Paterno’s stature doesn’t pass stuff like this along. He doesn’t treat charges of sexual abuse like a bag of peanuts in the middle of a row at a ballgame.

A man of Paterno’s importance at Penn State, just as with Bryant at Alabama, Schembechler at Michigan, et al, needs to be Harry Truman, not a middle man.

The buck should stop with them.

It’s an age-old debate.

Who is more culpable for certain heinous behavior?

The perpetrator, or the man who could have stopped him dead in his tracks?

Paterno should have done more than simply pass on the eyewitness account of Sandusky’s sick actions to his supposed boss. And Paterno knows it. He knew it long before he issued his milquetoast statement last week.

In hindsight, Joe? Really?

You needed hindsight to tell you that keeping inordinately quiet in the wake of such disturbing information was wrong?

Again, I ask, isn’t that worse, in a way, than what Sandusky allegedly did to who knows how many kids?

Paterno failed that child in the shower. And his willful suppression of his own powers failed subsequent kids.

Legally, they say, Paterno is in the clear. He did what he was legally obligated to do.

That may be, but I’m surprised Paterno has gotten a wink of sleep since.

You think all of this salacious behavior has been going on around Paterno without his knowledge? For almost 10 years?

The university did the right thing in firing Paterno and the school president, effective immediately. They saw Paterno’s offer to retire after the season and raised it.

They had to.

It was the only thing they could do and still salvage some of Penn State’s integrity.

A football program shouldn’t define a school, but it does in many people’s minds.

A football coach shouldn’t define a program, but he does.

And a terribly poor choice of judgment shouldn’t ruin a man forever, but it can, and it has.

Jerry Sandusky is small fish here, really. That sounds outrageous, because he’s the child predator, not anyone else in this story.

But see how the actions—or lack thereof—of someone like Joe Paterno can overshadow even a person with as vile of character as Jerry Sandusky?

Some say that this vile situation should put college football in perspective.


The bully pulpit of big time college athletics should have been used, by Joe Paterno, to put an end to Jerry Sandusky’s abhorrent acts against kids.

Paterno had everything at his disposal to stop the monster that might be Sandusky.

He took a knee instead.

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