Unhappy Valley

As you may know, Joe Paterno, coach of the Penn State University football team for 46 years, was fired this week, along with the university president, Graham Spanier. Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky…has been indicted on charges of sexually abusing eight boys over 15 years… Paterno, who, reportedly, was specifically told of one terrible incident, and mentioned it to university authorities without any follow-up, had been revered on the campus. The football program had been a model of a “clean” program. If you have the stomach for it, check out the grand jury indictment against Sandusky [PDF], which, as the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office noted, “details a disturbing pattern of sexual assaults on young boys, all of whom Sandusky met through his involvement in the charitable organization known as The Second Mile – an organization that Sandusky himself founded.”

It was clear to me early on that Paterno had to go, preferably before this weekend’s home game; he is the face of PSU. It’s peculiar to me, though, how people who don’t follow sports are blaming the influence of sports in the society for this debacle. It’s not just sports per se, or religion (see: the sex coverups THERE) or politics. It’s POWER, and the peculiar notion that “we can look the other way because of the rightness of our cause.” As this ESPN article notes: “Joe Paterno and Penn State officials were faced with a critical choice about damning information and chose to protect the program. This is what power has become. This is what power has always been.”

So the following morning, my wife tells me that the students are rioting because Paterno got fired. Surely she’s mistaken; maybe they were rioting as a result of the outrage over the stain to their community. Nope, she was right, although in the light of day, some students have been wearing pins in support of the victims of the alleged crime.

For greater understanding of the complexities of this case, I recommend the two articles cited here.

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5 thoughts on “Unhappy Valley

  1. As you might expect, this is hitting close to home for me. I don’t think the students were demonstrating (I won’t call it a riot, because only two people were arrested and no one was hurt, plus that feeds into the media narrative that they want to create) because Paterno got fired, but the way he got fired and the fact that no one else has been fired and because there’s so much we don’t know about the case. My anger is directed at Sandusky, of course, and at the media (I don’t think it’s coincidental that a news van was overturned), who formed a narrative that Paterno is a soulless monster and then opined, with self-righteous hindsight, that they would always do the right thing (no one can say what they would do in a situation like that, even if we all claim we would do the right thing) and demanded that Paterno take the fall. The Harrisburg newspaper, one of the few media outlets that has kept a level head throughout this, is reporting that the Board fired him because they were afraid of the media if they didn’t. They didn’t fire him because they had all the facts and Paterno was proven to be culpable, they fired him because they were afraid. I think that’s why most of the students were out in force. Sure, some were idiots looking to cause damage and some were just there to get out of studying, but I think those were in the extreme minority.

    With all that being said, I think Paterno had to go. I think it could have been handled much better, but maybe the Board gave him the opportunity to retire immediately or go on administrative leave and he said no. Then, their hands were forced. But I still think the media has, as they often do, molded a story and then ignored facts that contradict that narrative. No one is hounding Jerry Sandusky, who’s out on bail. No one is camped out on his lawn asking him questions. Paterno is famous, and the media loves taking down famous people because they all think they’re Woodward and Bernstein.

    Sorry for the rant. I’m upset at a lot of people, Paterno included, and I think a lot of the story is getting lost in the laser-like focus on one person.

    • I called it a riot because a much less destructive event in Albany was called a riot. Certainly I had no animosity toward Joe Pa prior to this event, though I thought he should have retired a decade ago when PSU was fielding mediocre teams. But it’s always tricky; Paterno, as you know, was more than a football coach; he was the symbol of the school. And when it gets tarnished by such allegations in the sports arena, Joe Pa’s going to take heat for that. Is it fair? I don’t know. But if I were the Trustees, I would have voted the same way.

  2. I think he should have retired a while ago, too. In 2004, the Board wanted him to retire, and he told them he wasn’t going to. Maybe they should have fired him then. I know that Paterno is going to be the focus because he’s the symbol of the school, but at the same time, that speaks to the fact the media likes shiny objects and isn’t always doing their job. I know, shocking.

  3. With the number of victims increasing, all of the people that covered this up disgust me. From the 28-year-old grad assistant who didn’t bother to intervene AT THAT MOMENT to Paterno to the university administration….they all should hang their heads in shame.

  4. I was so shocked at all this news. I have always respected JoePa and Penn St, not being a fan. Part of me always wondered if there was something going on. All big time college sports programs, no matter how clean they look, have to be doing something wrong somewhere. Never expected something so heinous though.

    I think you hit the nail on the head. It’s power that does this. No program, or school, or any organization should be bigger than the protection of human beings.

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