Paterno’s Legacy – And Ours, Ctd

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A reader comments on another's praise of Paterno:

I understand the desire to not throw away decades of idol worship over one scandal, but the argument is a bit lacking. Sure he made a lot of great coaching decisions, but when confronted with one of the most important decisions a person could possibly be confronted with, the decision to stop the possible endangerment of a child, he failed miserably. It seems society should require this to be part of his legacy. It lets others know it doesn't matter how successful you are – if you allow the endangerment of a child, none of your accomplishments matter. If it keeps kids safer from these sorts of acts, I'm ok with it.

Another is a bit more blunt:

Your reader's email about Paterno's legacy at Penn State and his personal thrill at receiving a thank you note from the Paternos was downright sickening.

Basically, the reader is impressed and personally touched by the fact that the Paternos went out of their way, in a time of great stress, to research his/her address, write a thank you note and mail it to him in a very timely fashion. If only Joe Pa had devoted a fraction of the diligence to reporting a crime against a child (and preventing future abuses) that he and/or his wife put into adhering to Emily Post. Your reader went on to say "Joe never missed an opportunity to remind us that success is only valuable when it comes with honor". Am I to assume there is more honor in etiquette than in preventing child rape?

Another reader:

I live in Central PA, and am currently a grad student at Penn State. Unlike nearly everyone else at PSU, I actively dislike their football team. (I grew up a fan of, and eventually attended, a university that Penn State fans consider a rival.) I couldn't agree more with your first reader's take that "The need to classify him into a category of 'good' or 'evil' seems like folly to [him or her]." Although I don't like the team, I respect that he tried to run his program the right way (no mean accomplishment, to be sure) and by all accounts he was a genuinely kind and decent guy.

Your second reader, however, trotted out a canard that I keep hearing from my many PSU alum friends and people in the area. The reader claims that Paterno "had been mistreated by the University and the press (based on incomplete information and misinformation)." These Gingrichian (or are they Palinesque?) claims that JoePa was a victim of the "national media" and the Board of Trustees are absurd, and I'm getting tired of hearing it.

First off, what do these people think would have been an appropriate response by the media and the Board? I frequently hear that he should have been allowed to retire at the end of the season, but let's unpack that one a bit. If Paterno had still been on the sidelines for the last three games of the season, can you imagine the shitshow that would have ensued?

He was fired Nov. 10, and they had a home game with Nebraska that weekend. That might have been manageable enough in the friendly confines of the Happy Valley, but the next two weeks were road games at Ohio State and Wisconsin. How would those schools have felt about all the extra security they would have had to hire, and the protesters who undoubtedly would have descended on both Camp Randall and the Horseshoe. For that matter, at that point in the season, Penn State had a chance to make it to the inaugural Big 10 championship game. (Conference title games are huge moneymakers, and it was only this season that the Big 10 finally had enough schools to be allowed to hold one.) How would the other member institutions have felt about having a child sex abuse scandal hanging over their biggest game of the year? (Here's a hint: they took Paterno's name off the championship trophy when he was fired.)

Big 10 membership is a HUGE deal for Penn State. My professors are always talking about how the school uses other Big 10 institutions as benchmarks for literally everything. Also, from what I understand, it was the money Penn State got from joining the Big 10 in the '90s that has enabled it to become (I believe) a top 50 research university worldwide, at least by one measure. People like to say how Penn State is "more than just football," but the fact is that if their football brand were destroyed (which can happen, just ask SMU) Penn State might just find itself viewed as a "cow college" again. Letting Paterno stay on would have been malpractice on the part of the Board.

Also, is there a going concern in the world (aside from the Catholic Church, bien sur) that would allow its chief executive to remain in place under similar circumstances?

And let's not forget the dread "national media." What, exactly, is it that these people would have had the press do? There was certainly no lack of media criticism of Penn State or JoePa (or McQueary for that matter) in the wake of the revelations, and some of it could certainly be described as inflammatory. Here's the thing though. Penn State fans who embrace the "national media" narrative seem to be saying that these incendiary commentaries in the press are the reason why so many people were so pissed off about what happened. Seriously? It was the commentary? I can't speak for anyone else, but "raping 10 year olds" was really all I myself needed to get fully pissed, and that seems to have been the reaction of everyone who isn't emotionally invested in PSU football. Is it really so impossible to believe that child rape can piss people off without some talking head telling them that that's how they should feel? Fuck that.

Finally, if Joe wanted to clear his name, he had every opportunity in the world. I didn't watch his WaPo interview, but from the accounts I read, it doesn't sound like the reporter really pressed him on details; I'm pretty sure the biggest news the interview generated was the fact that he "wished he had done more," or some such cliche. Since he'll never face cross examination under oath, it is highly unlikely that we will ever be able to completely judge Paterno's moral complicity in these alleged crimes, but that's on Joe; I'm sure the national media would have been happy to give him all the airtime he wanted to try and rescue his legacy.

(Screenshot from The Onion)