Earlier this year I wrote that Joe Paterno needed to go as head coach at Penn State. This certainly isn’t the ending I envisioned. I’ve purposely not commented on the Jerry Sandusky scandal, because I didn’t think it was necessary for me to be one more person calling this a sad, regrettable and tragic situation. I didn’t know all of the facts, and frankly I don’t want to know them all, and so I can’t speak as a Penn State insider, or as someone with even an educated opinion. I’d just be another person on the fringe with their two-cents. But, I guess as it looks like we’re moving toward some definitive conclusions here, it’s time to offer a thought or two, or at least have a place where people can discuss.
It was interesting to me that the debate evolved in some ways into a battle over whether Joe Paterno should keep his job. As with many things Penn State, I suppose, it was possible to boil this down to a football decision. Should the coach stay or go? Maybe this is a more comfortable question to discuss than the larger issues?
I’ll say that getting rid of Paterno will accomplish nothing other than finally ending his long tenure. It’s not going to create any goodwill among those calling for his head, it’s not to going to offer any real relief to the victims or their families, it’s just an old guy losing his job, really. Losing his chance to go out on his own terms–something that seemed to be very valuable to him. And, for that, I do feel slightly bad for Paterno.
For me, the biggest part of this case is that it is another indictment against college athletics. I hope that there isn’t a Jerry Sandusky scandal at every major university out there, but this gives you an idea of how it probably would have been handled at most places. The culture at these Universities that are major athletic players is something that needs to change. We see that from tiny scandals over players getting tattoos to a giant and horrific mess like the one that has engulfed Penn State. The common thread is that the first impulse is to cover it all up. The first thought is, how can we get away with this? How can we get past this without any harm to the football program?
That would be the most embarrassing aspect for me if I was associated with one of these schools. How do you explain to someone that all this occurred because they were trying to shield the football program from any scandal? Not only that, but how sad is it that we’ve gotten to a point where I can say I honestly understand why Mike McQueary didn’t do more. You think a grad assistant wants to get labeled as a snitch? As a whistle-blower? Sure, you can try to separate this horrible crime from something minor like a recruiting scandal, but the bottom line is, you would have had a young coach who was known as someone who ratted out the old coach. Yeah, he did the right thing, but does he always do the right thing? If we hire him here is he going to turn us in for throwing a little money around, fudging some academic records, what’s his threshold?
So, McQueary passes it up the line, and then Paterno does too. JoePa probably had the standing to do something about it. He could survive, because he’d never need anyone else to hire him, but he chose to pass it up the line as well. And, from there, the decision was made to try to keep the program clean. And from the very first moment Penn State made the choice to try to cover this up, from the very first allegation, they made their bed. Any future allegation would have to get the same treatment, otherwise the original cover-up is exposed. Now, it’s been exposed anyway and years of negligence have been piled on top.
Am I saying this was more likely to happen, in this manner, at a big-time division one sports school? I guess I am. It’s certainly not a situation unique to that environment, but how they do business and where they place their priority creates an environment, doesn’t it?