It had to happen. He had to go.
Child rape. The mysterious disappearance of an investigating district attorney. Insensitive front lawn pep rallies. An absolute nightmare.
Penn State had to clean house in order to rid the university of the stench left by Jerry Sandusky and those who kept allegations of his sexually abusive behavior a secret.
While this scandal goes far beyond it’s impact on the football team, naturally the focus shifted to one of college sports’ national treasures, Joe Paterno in his 46th season as the Nittany Lions head coach.
As the layers of a seemingly substantial coverup began to unravel, many (including a grand jury) were asking who played what role in the former defensive coordinator’s alleged sexual abuse of several young boys.
Paterno has admitted to playing a role. While he said in a statement Wednesday morning that he planned to retire at the end of the season, that was not a decision for him to make, despite his power and influence.
We’ve seen several prominent college head coaches lose their jobs in recent years, with these few coming to mind:
Jim Tressel: Resigned as Ohio State’s head football coach in May 2011 after emails proved that he attempted to cover up the fact that some of his players had received free tattoos, which is a violation of NCAA rules.
Bruce Pearl: Fired from his post as head coach of the University of Tennessee’s men’s basketball program in March 2011 after the NCAA charged him with “unethical conduct” as a result of Pearl lying to investigators about hosting high school juniors at a BBQ at his home.
Rick Neuheisel: Fired from University of Washington in 2003 for participating in college basketball pools during March Madness. As the school’s head football coach, any type of gambling is a violation of NCAA policy.
Most people’s actions are governed by two things; written law and a society’s moral code. Tressel, Pearl and Neuheisel were indeed guilty of breaking institutional rules, but didn’t exactly breach any major moral contract.
On the other hand, we have Paterno who followed the rules, albeit at a bare minimum, in reporting alleged abuse to his cronies, yet allowed common sense, ethics and humanity to fall by the wayside. For those who cheered Paterno, jeered detractors and rioted in the streets of State College, you must understand that being a figurehead comes with its benefits and drawbacks.
Despite not actually coaching for the last several years, the 84-year-old Paterno brought in top recruits. Paterno was a living legend who inspired his players in the locker room and a man who had positively represented the university and the state of Pennsylvania for several decades.
With such notoriety comes love and adoration, respect, signing autographs, accepting free meals and taking credit that you don’t always deserve. But with the good, must come the bad. Often times someone with such status takes the fall when things go wrong, is made an example of and absorbs more personal criticism than is perhaps warranted.
His status as a figurehead, coupled with the substantial role he played in the Sandusky scandal provided the perfect storm in which to fire Paterno. While reporting the alleged abuse is legally suitable, allowing the suspect (before completion of a law enforcement investigation) to continually bring young boys into your university’s athletic facilities for years is negligent and unjustifiable.
Despite the disgust, there is an explanation. While a publicist or media relations professional surely wrote the statement released by Paterno on Wednesday morning (click here for the statement: http://usat.ly/rNNFFP ), its the words that came out of Paterno’s mouth Tuesday night which offered true insight.
In an impromptu pep rally of sorts on Paterno’s front lawn, he told reporters and supporters, “it’s hard for me to tell you how much this means to me, alright? You guys have lived for this place. I’ve lived for people like you guys and girls. I’m just so happy to see that you could feel so strongly about us and your school. And as I said I don’t know whether you heard me or not, as you know with the kids who are victims, or whatever they wanna say, I think we all ought to say a prayer for them…. Tough life when people do certain things to you, but , anyway, you’ve [people cheering for Paterno outside his home] been great. You’ve been really great, alright.”
The dismissive and egocentric nature of Paterno’s comments might ultimately be what did him in. When a person can’t show any genuine remorse in a situation like this, he is a liability and a public relations nightmare.
In an article posted on the Beaver County Times website last April, seven months ago, Mark Madden detailed the grand jury investigation and apparent coverup at Penn State, writing in regards to Sandusky possibly getting off the hook, “don’t kid yourself. That could happen. Don’t underestimate the power of Paterno and Penn State in central Pennsylvania when it comes to politicians, the police and the media.”
Looks like Madden was right. Where was the media when all of this was going on? Why didn’t the story get picked up, either locally or nationally? There are so many questions that we will hopefully get the answers to in the coming months.
For now, power and narcissism are where many answers lie.
After reports of sexual abuse, Sandusky was investigated in 1998, although then-Centre County district attorney Ray Gricar decided not to prosecute. Sandusky retired in 1999, and in 2005, Gricar, who must hold some answers, went missing and has since been legally declared dead. You can read about the unsolved mystery here ( http://nyti.ms/s4yBGn ).
Six of Sandusky’s alleged victims reported being abused in the eight years after then-graduate assistant coach Mike McQueary told Paterno what he witnessed in the locker room showers in 2002.
Paterno had the knowledge and power to stop Sandusky, but did not do so. Surely, Paterno, Penn State president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president of finance and business Gary Schultz were not protecting Sandusky. They were protecting 409 wins. They were protecting 37 bowl appearances. They were protecting the legacy of Joe Paterno.
A large ego can be dangerous and deceiving. A narcissist not only loves himself, but also feels a sense of invincibility. From coverups to corruption, he assembles a crew of people who will do anything to protect him. It seems as though Paterno and his cronies thought he was untouchable because he was Joe Paterno; That any misgivings could be swept under a nice Nittany Lion rug and the legend of Joe Paterno would keep on living, blemish-free. Sadly, they were right…until now. All it took was a courier and a phone call to to remind Paterno that he too, is human.
To read Mike Madden’s article from April 2011, click the link: http://www.timesonline.com/columnists/sports/mark_madden/madden-sandusky-a-state-secret/article_863d3c82-5e6f-11e0-9ae5-001a4bcf6878.html#user-comment-area