Effective this evening, I will cease paying attention to anything more related to the Penn State scandal. This is an important story, and the gravity of the crimes committed by Jerry Sandusky and his enablers can not be understated. However, I have now watched/read/heard close to a hundred hours of discussion on the matter, and I believe that—barring another shock—most of the story has been related.
To that end, I have put together my final thoughts on a myriad of matters. These are just my opinion. But, for what it's worth, they are the carefully-considered thoughts of a man who has no horse in the game and no axe to grind.
1. The Paterno Family Should Shut Up
This is the first, and perhaps most important 'final word' of the day. Joe Paterno is dead, and his completely incompetent family members should quit digging him a deeper grave. They have no credibility, they are not really qualified to speak on most of the matters to which they speak, and their statements are great at making people dislike all-things Paterno.
If Joe were alive, I probably wouldn't want to hear from him. So I definitely don't want to hear from Antionette and the dauphin.
2. Vacating Wins Is Just Ridiculous...
Perhaps Penn State did get off easy when the collective punishments are put under the microscope, but the one form of punishment that is really ridiculous is retroactive destruction of wins or records. We cannot re-write or re-live history in any other aspect of life, so why do we try to in the sports realm?
Should Mark McGwire's home run count be reduced by a few hundred? Should the 1989 Oakland Athletics be stripped of their World Series banner? How about the New Orleans Saints—let's take away their Super Bowl, because of that terrible bounty system.
Look—I realize that Joe Paterno's crimes were worse than the Saints—by many miles. At the same time, the Saints crimes actually took place on the playing field. And once you start to erase records or tear down banners, you set a dangerous precedent. Where is the line? Is the line on the field or does it include horrific off-field crimes? Should O.J. Simpson lose his 2,000-yard season? When do the crimes have to take place?
Joe Paterno won those games. He might have been a loser the whole time, but he won the games.
3. This Is Why Mandatory Retirement Should Be Forced On Just About Everyone...
Popes can't be appointed after age 80. Many law firms, banks and other great companies mandate a forced retirement age. The people who get ousted as a result tend to whine and complain on the way out (*cough* Bobby Bowden *cough*), but these policies are there for a reason.
Joe Paterno has no excuse for his horrible cover-up, but sometimes an explanation differs from an excuse, and as I try to grapple with this senseless situation, here is something that has occurred to me:
Paterno was born and raised in a different era. One that we can't possibly relate to. When Joe was a kid, the President of the United States was confined to a wheelchair, and nobody in America knew it, because you "just didn't talk about that kind of thing."
When Joe Paterno was a football coach, the President of the United States was having an affair with the most glamorous actress in America. Many people in both political parties knew about it, but the secret never got out. People back then "kept their mouths shut."
When Joe Paterno was an old man—in the 1980s—Ronald Reagan did an outstanding job of leading our country through difficulty. But he also screwed up when it came to the national dialogue on AIDS. Many critics identify his silence as a major enabler of the virus' devastation. But back then, America had trouble dealing with the topic of homosexuality in public forums; it was just a "taboo topic."
In short, Joe Paterno grew up and reached adulthood at a time when uncomfortable topics were "just not mentioned." Again, this in no way justifies his actions in the slightest. But I do think that it partially explains why a man of otherwise high quality had such an epic failure of judgment.
In the modern day, we have grown to embrace difficult topics, because they are difficult topics. Victims of abuse are encouraged to speak out, because we are equipped to handle the great complexities of the matter. But this is a somewhat new phenomenon. America has changed more than we acknowledge. Thirty years ago, this was a different country. If a man spoke out about being raped, he was more likely to be ridiculed, rather than being recognized as courageous.
We will never know the extent of who or what Joe Paterno thought he was "protecting." But, the man should never have been in that position to begin with. That's why we retire when we still think we have a few good years left in us. Because it's classy, and because the world changes more than we know.
4. The Wrong People Are Being Punished
The NCAA had little choice with its sanctions, and I believe that they were fair—or, possibly, too lenient. That being said, we should take a moment to acknowledge that, in the end, the wrong people are being punished.
Many of the teenagers who were about to begin their collegiate athletic careers at Penn State are being punished. The sophomore football players who may have to transfer are being punished. The 10 students each year who fall short of a scholarship are being punished. The millions of lifelong fans—many of them doctors, religious leaders, teachers and safety workers—are being punished.
Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno will never feel one inkling of a slap from those punishments. They are answering to much higher authorities.
JoePa's good name and statue were removed before the NCAA had a chance to issue its ruling, so everything that happened today was directed at the millions of alums, fans and hard-working athletes who didn't do a damn thing wrong.
Again, the punishment was far from severe... but the least we can do is take a second to acknowledge that a lot of people are paying for the horrible crimes of a few.
Anyhow, those are my final thoughts on the matter.