Joe Paterno's Grand Betrayal

Peter AlfanoContributor IIJuly 12, 2012

A legacy destroyed: A tragic ending for joe Paterno.
A legacy destroyed: A tragic ending for joe Paterno.Rob Carr/Getty Images

There is a clamor among those who call sports-talk radio shows and even among some talk-show hosts and sportswriters calling for the death penalty for Penn State.

Well, no matter what the official cause was, I firmly believe Joe Paterno did receive the death penalty for his role in helping university officials harbor a pedophile in trusted assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, once considered Paterno's heir apparent.

I believe he no longer had the will to survive his battle with cancer.  

There are dozens of sports experts commenting on Paterno's role in the most sordid incident in collegiate-sports history, but I'm guessing most of them never met Paterno or covered a Penn State game.

They can't understand the disappointment and sense of betrayal felt by those of us who often went to Happy Valley to cover Penn State and who came to know and respect Paterno as one of the lions of sports.

I never considered him the patron saint of Penn State, as many alumni, boosters, players and students did, but I believed that he tried to do things the right way. He was serious about his players getting their degrees; he did do his best to avoid NCAA-rules violations.

I remember being in South Bend on a Friday night before a Penn State-Notre Dame game having a drink in the Gipper Lounge of the Holiday Inn. The two guys sitting to my left got into a heated argument. One was a Penn State fan; the other rooted for Notre Dame.

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They nearly came to blows arguing which football program had the highest graduation rate.

Paterno had a good laugh when I later told him the story.

Was Penn State ever guilty of rules infractions during his tenure?

Probably, but not because he turned a blind eye. And most likely, any improper benefits were piddling compared to what goes on at other football programs.

There were plenty of coaches and boosters who would have loved nothing better than to blow the whistle on Paterno, who sometimes was seen as self-righteous and holier than thou.

In fact, he called his commitment to sports and academics a "Grand Experiment."

It is now the Grand Betrayal, and the expression "Say it ain't so, Joe" has new meaning.

Former FBI director Louis Freeh's report indicts the highest-ranking officials in the university athletic department and administration for choosing to cover up Sandusky's molestation of young boys right under Paterno's nose.

In the insular world of a university town, these officials actually believed their dirty secret would never become public. It's the same arrogance that made Tiger Woods believe that none of the women he slept with when he was married would ever go public.

Paterno was entrusted with the well-being of hundreds and hundreds of young football players he helped recruit. He was a father and grandfather. Yet, he chose his football program and his legacy over the lives of the young people that Sandusky molested.

Am I being too harsh? Maybe, because the Paterno I thought I knew would never have hesitated to report the allegations about Sandusky to law enforcement, not just the athletic director and university president.

The Paterno I thought I knew would have blown the whistle and been applauded for his actions.

Frankly, every one of his remaining assistants should be replaced. Do you really expect me to believe that Paterno's son, Jay, who was also an assistant coach, never had a conversation with his father about Sandusky?

It's time for Penn State to cleanse itself of everyone who may have been aware of what Sandusky was doing. I have heard the knee-jerk reaction about removing Paterno's name from the library he helped build or the statue of him in front of Beaver Stadium.

My first instinct was to agree. But on second thought, perhaps we should let the statue stand as a reminder of what happened at Penn State—a memorial to the young boys whose lives were ruined when Joe Pa and university officials didn't take action.

Penn State will move on, but it should never forget.   


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