Who would have thought? Who would have foreseen? No one I am sure of that. I know, cryptic beginning but I am thinking about the mess at Penn State at the moment. I have been on a two week vacation. I was not hiding under a rock but did not pay particular attention to the PSU problems until my step-dad was asking me what was going on there as he was reading a fairly short article buried in their paper. Now, they do live in the desert southwest but Nittany Lion alumni are a strong bunch across the country. I couldn’t believe allegations of sexual abuse by a coach at Penn State would be hidden in any paper in the country.
Fast forward a few days and I am traveling cross country to get home. I did not have the smoothest of connections on the way back to New York so missed a good day and a half or so of news. I log onto the internet eventually and I see that Joe Paterno has announced he will resign at the end of the season. Now, Paterno was not accused of sexually abusing anyone. He is guilty of a moral lapse. The fact, though, that not doing enough was enough to make a man who is 84 and showed no signs of retirement to date decide to end his storied career says a lot. Paterno was told of the allegations against the assistant coach’s and did inform those above him in the chain of university command. That was all he did.
Another day passes and I turn on the television to catch the morning local news as I always do. I find out I slept through not only the Board of Trustees firing Joe Paterno and the university president but also through students rioting in State College. Needless to say, Happy Valley is not so happy today.
Paterno had been coach at Penn State for 46 years. As I said, he was 84 years old. The man should have retired long ago, possibly even before these allegations took place. What will this mean for Paterno? What will this mean for Penn State?
If Paterno has raised men as well as trained athletes – as he has always said, the team should rally around the fired coach and finish stronger than ever. This may seem like a stretch since professional athletes claim all kinds of distractions cause their games to be off. Just remember we are not talking about professional athletes but student athletes. These athletes already have a fair number of distractions to their game with the academic and social lives they live.
The overwhelming question, particularly among alumni, is what will this mean for the reputation that Paterno had built for himself. Paterno was known for coaching and not having a lot of issues with his teams. He was known for being a straight shooter and for doing the right thing. Then came the allegations against a former assistant coach. Should Paterno have done more when he was informed? Probably but remember that the average person, especially in a large city, witnesses crimes all the time and doesn’t report, and usually doesn’t even stop to help, the victim.
I am not defending Paterno. I am saying he is human. He did what the average person would do. He did what he was required to do and not a thing more. Unfortunately, he lived on a pedestal in Happy Valley. People, players, fans, alumni expected him to be better than average. These constituencies expected Joe Paterno to be more than human.
Time will be the only thing that will tell how Paterno and Penn State recover from this scandal.