When we look back on what has occurred at Penn State over the last five days, it’s hard to tell what we’ll call it.
Some are calling it the worst scandal college sports have ever seen, and others say the media and the Penn State board of trustees are overreacting.
In truth, it’s too early to say what kind of implications this scandal will have on the future, and as hard as it might be, nobody should rush to judgment.
But we do know what this week has been so far—an embarrassment. An embarrassment to Penn State, an embarrassment to college football and an embarrassment to the culture surrounding the game.
Clearly, the main villain here is Jerry Sandusky, who allegedly used his position of power at Penn State and the Second Mile to manipulate and sexually assault young boys.
The secondary villains are Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, who were responsible for the cover-up.
That’s why they are being charged with crimes.
There may have been no other crimes committed at Penn State, but so many others are at fault for how poorly this case was handled, from ousted president Graham Spanier, to ousted coach Joe Paterno and to the fans.
In the wake of Paterno’s firing Wednesday night, a mob of thousands of students started a riot in State College, lighting things on fire, breaking street signs, chanting and flipping vans.
But the riot wasn’t about the victims, or even to protest Sandusky’s actions—it was about keeping Joe Paterno, and mostly just for the sake of rioting.
However, given the way Paterno and Spanier handled the situation, everyone had to know this was coming, from the students to the media to Paterno and Spanier themselves.
Given the track record of college presidents who have been backed up against a wall recently, it wasn’t shocking to see Spanier’s PR failure. To say an athletic director accused of crimes of this magnitude has “my unconditional support” isn’t exactly going to win you brownie points with the media, the fans, the board of trustees—or anyone.
But given the ignorance other university presidents have shown in scandals, I wasn’t shocked.
But Paterno’s lack of judgment is different. He was supposed to be an icon, someone who did things the right way. Instead, this week he came off as selfish and unsympathetic.
Yes, Paterno had a moral lapse in judgment, but in time that can be forgiven.
Had he fully reached out to the victims in the wake of Sandusky’s arrest—focused the attention on them, invited their families to the game, donated money to victims of sexual assault, etc.—he might have been on the sidelines this Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
Instead, he focused the attention on himself.
While he should have been working with the board of trustees, Paterno chose to pick a fight with the board of trustees, saying he will retire at the end of the season and “the board of trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status.”
After his firing, he said, “Right now I’m not the coach. And I’ve got to get used to that.”
But Joe Paterno needs to realize this isn’t about Joe Paterno. This is about more than football and the end of a 61-year career.
This should be about the victims who suffered from the atrocities committed by Jerry Sandusky. They suffered, Paterno didn’t.
Paterno isn’t the only one at fault for shifting the attention in the wrong direction—that responsibility falls on the fans and everyone else involved.
Rioters vandalized State College, media members and fans fought over Twitter and the college football world seemed to go into chaos.
The real story was forgotten, just like it was in 1998 and again in 2002.
At least Joe Paterno got one thing right: “This is a tragedy,” he said in his retirement letter.
But its not a tragedy that the winningest coach in college football history won’t be on the sidelines this Saturday.
It’s a tragedy that the culture of college football can reach a point of chaos like this and that it can cause the real story to be largely forgotten.
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