Sunday, July 22, 2012

Joe Paterno's restless sleep

It has been a little more than a week since the release of the Freeh Report. The report outlined the lack of action Penn State officials took as pedophile Jerry Sandusky preyed on children on their campus.
It is all hard to believe, but by this point in our lives, maybe none of us should ever be shocked by anything that happens. As long as human beings are able to be self-centered, then decisions like the ones made there will continue to happen.
According to the Freeh Report, head football coach Joe Paterno and other high-ranking university officials were aware of the 1998 criminal investigation regarding Sandusky and his alleged abuse of a boy. Though the investigation did not result in charges at that time against Sandusky, there was compelling information that should have resulted in him not having access to university facilities anymore.
However, Penn State officials did nothing, and Sandusky continued using the school’s facilities to abuse boys. The report concluded, "In short, nothing was done and Sandusky was allowed to continue with impunity."
Most of the focus has been on Paterno. For better or worse, head football coaches are one of the most highly visible people on university campuses these days. Paterno was especially powerful at Penn State, and because of this, he has taken more heat than others involved in this.
One of the report's conclusions is the lack of action by officials was done to avoid bad publicity for the university and the football program. If this is the case, it represents a new low. In many ways, college sports stink to high heaven when it comes to corruption, and it is difficult to find a much worse case than this.
What makes this harder to fathom is that Paterno and Penn State had been put on a pedestal as an example of how college sports and academia could work together in a positive way. Looking back at it, a lot of the exalting of the school was from within. The school carried itself with a lot of pride when it came to the ways it did business.
As with most aspects of life, pride often precedes the fall, and this is certainly the case here. Penn State’s values now come across as shrill and self-righteous in many ways. Paterno was critical of many aspects of college sports and sometimes pointed out others he felt were not worthy.
He famously once said he did not want to leave football to the Jackie Sherrill’s and Barry Switzer’s of the world. Both Sherrill and Switzer were coaches who had problems with the NCAA and its rules. Though both those men ran programs that broke rules, neither came close to the horror associated with the Penn State situation.
Of course, Paterno is dead now. He died earlier this year of cancer only months after being ousted as head coach. It would have been interesting to hear him talk about the situation. His family has spoken out in his defense, and I can only imagine the nightmare that is their lives right now.
The bottom line is this is a cautionary tale of how careful we should be when looking up to people we respect. Despite his bad decisions, Paterno did a lot of good. However, he was only a man and capable of making big mistakes like the rest of us.
It is easy to throw rocks at others, but all of us need to realize that evil dominoes can begin tumbling if we lose sight of what is right and wrong. It happened to Paterno, and it can happen to us.
Never lose sight of that fact.

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