*Update* – Joe Paterno and Penn State President Graham Spanier have been fired, as reported by ESPN.
Growing up in the Big House, aka Fort Schembechler, there was always one constant in Michigan Football, and it wasn’t inside the state of Michigan. Joe Paterno and Penn State University represented something unrivaled by any of Michigan’s Big Ten football opponents. There’s that school in Ohio, pesky Michigan State, tough-nosed Wisconsin and Iowa and then all of the teams Michigan isn’t supposed to lose to. But Penn State was a beast of another nature.
I have always said that Joe Paterno was my favorite college football coach of my era. Emphasis on “was”. Paterno and his blue-and-white football team always represented the best Big Ten attributes: class, integrity and smashmouth football to boot. They were the football team that Michigan tried to despise, but couldn’t, because they weren’t all that evil. They were just a quality football program. They are still a quality football team, but the program has been torn from its hinges.
Joe Paterno is no longer my favorite football coach. His lack of appropriate action regarding multiple child molestation charges towards his former defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, have demolished the image of a legendary football coach. Paterno had just won his 409th football game, the most ever in college football, and looked to be etched forever into football lore with a golden, shiny statue.
The charges and eye-witness accounts originating from about 13 years ago and continuing through the years have built a strong case likely to end in at least one long jail sentence for Jerry Sandusky. The Grand Jury report is so disturbing I’m not going to link the official release (you may find it on your own if you so desire, but I warn you, I couldn’t make it past the first paragraph of Victim 2’s case). Joe Paterno and a lot of other people failed to protect a number of children and continued to let a predator roam the campus. No official police action was ever requested and now it is all blowing up in Penn State’s red face.
I’m just starting to wrap my head around this scandal and the potential fallout. This isn’t just about Joe Paterno and Penn State football. First and foremost, it’s about the victims and their deserved support and justice. Paterno and the PSU athletic department will receive their punishments (Paterno has already been fired along with University President Graham Spanier). But there are more victims than the children. The Penn State football team, alumni and fans are endearing an event unlike any other scandal to rock the college football world.
This scandal isn’t about college football players receiving illegal benefits or being arrested. This is a golden, perfect image of a program and coach being transformed into deceptive fool’s gold. Children have been seriously harmed. Alumni, players and fans have had their very beliefs ground into dust. This isn’t an easy scandal to swallow for any college football fan, especially in the Big Ten. Penn State was that honor-infused football team with a rock-solid head coach that you had to play hard to beat. You still have to play a good game to beat Penn State, but all respective images have been ruined.
And for what? To save a hometown hero, Jerry Sandusky, and his image? None of this is worth the horror the children had to experience. None of this is worth the pain the football players, alumni, students and Penn State faculty members are already experiencing. A few key players in this scandal, most notably Joe Paterno, could’ve avoided this disaster by promptly reporting the case to the appropriate authorities instead of silently allowing Sandusky to retire and stick around on campus for many years. There is not one single positive outcome from this case and there never was in the past. All Joe Paterno and the other informed parties of this case ever succeeded in accomplishing was placing a time-bomb underneath the foundation of Penn State University.
The time-bomb exploded, and the fallout will contaminate Happy Valley for years to come. I bleed maize and blue, but right now my heart goes out to all of the victims, football players, and Penn State affiliates.
The victims and families are going to have to endure an emotional trial. Jerry Sandusky will most likely end up in jail. Joe Paterno will never be remembered the way he could’ve been. But I have faith in the Penn State players and fans. They will be on the gridiron next fall with a new head coach and they’re still going to be an honorable tough-to-beat football team. Penn State will move on.