"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."- Lord Acton
our normal course of writing events to broach a subject that doesn't
pertain to West Virginia University or WVU athletics, and thank almost
heaven for that.
pertain to what can happen when those persons who run a major college
athletic program try to put its image above doing what is right and in
the long run tarnish its image far more.
It pertains to what can happen when the perceived good of an inaminate entity is placed above human benefit.
into attention how far zealous fans of an athletic program -- many of
whom live vicariously through the accomplishments of others and adopt
them as their own -- will fervently go to protect it and the people
whose actions or lack of actions put it under severe scrutiny.
THERE HAD BEEN NO PLANS from this corner on commenting about the disturbing allegations coming out Pennsylvania State University the past few months.
We were going to keep our musings to ourselves on the subject.
Then we saw
and heard the apologisms emanating out of the staid community of State
College, Pennsylvania, in the days leading up to and after the recent
death and funeral of legendary ex-Penn State head football coach Joe
IT IS UNDERSTOOD
that someone's funeral is not the place to air out their biggest
mistakes in life, and avoidance of certain issues he or she confronted
during their time on Earth is expected.
though, that Paterno's funeral and aftermath have been used not only to
avoid issues, but to advance the notion that Paterno was not part of an
apparent years-long coverup of child molestation by ex-Penn State
assistant coach Jerry Sandusky -- who faces more than 40 criminal
charges that he sexually assaulted at least 10 boys beginning in the
troubles us and we feel compelled -- after a few days of contemplation
-- to address the Penn State scandal in general and Joe Paterno in
IT MAY BE AN OVERSTATEMENT (maybe) to say that Joe Paterno became a religious figure of sorts to a Mass of Penn State followers.
things on a secular plane, we will suggest only that Paterno had long
been anointed King of Penn State and of the region in which it stands.
it's fair to say that Paterno was viewed as a benevolent monolithic
figure that Penn State fans held up as a paragon of virtue -- a man who
cultivated an image of propriety, a coach who followed regulations and
still succeeded against a bevy of more seedy programs that flaunt the
PENN STATE fans
have long been prone toward an air of superiority -- and shall we say,
sanctimony -- thinking of Nittany Lion football as cleaner and above
other programs, even as more than a few Penn State players wound up on
What does it
do, then, for Paterno's image and that of the program he built now that
evidence has begun to show he and several others at Penn State likely
enabled a sexual predator in their midst for way more than a decade?
for example, apparently was allowed to use the same locker room and
showers in which he is accused of molesting boys years after witness
accounts enlightened Paterno and other university officials that
molestation allegedly was happening.
and there are many, cling to the belief that Paterno lived up to his
legal responsibility by informing Penn State Athletic Director Tim
Curley when then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary told Paterno in 2002
he saw Sandusky sexually assault a boy about 10 years old in the locker
appearances, that was the end of Paterno's involvement in the situation
until a few months ago, when the scandal broke and became immediate
national and international news and Paterno was forced out after 46
years at the helm.
high-ranking Penn State official Gary Schultz have been indicted on
charges that include lying to a grand jury and not reporting the alleged
sexual abuse to police as required by law.
THERE WERE NO CHARGES
brought against Paterno, indicating that he met the legal requirement tokeep the wolves at bay.
The question is, was that enough?
Did Paterno meet the ethical requirement?
Did he meet the moral requirement?
We're talking child molestation here.
IF PATERNO WENT ALMOST 10 years before addressing this issue again and then only as a result of police and prosecution pressure, we have to wonder:
Was his primary motive during that time to help abused children?;
Paterno motivated first and foremost to try and hide Sandusky's tracks
in a bid to protect the Penn State football program?
We suspect the latter, sad to say.
LET'S BE HONEST.
Do we really
think that the heinous accusations now made against Sandusky -- a
longtime member of Paterno's inner sanctum -- were not already
well-known in the State College area, which is so intertwined with Penn
State's squeaky-clean athletic image so important and the power of
Paterno's program so absolute that for more than a decade, no one in
power took approporiate action?
We suspect the answer is yes.
PATERNO ALMOST INARGUABLY was the most powerful single figure at Penn State at the time and for decades before.
kicked McQueary's revelations down to Currey -- his supposed boss, but
in truth someone with little authority over him -- and lapsed into
silence for years, what kind of message did that send?
could have gone to law enforcement and told what he knew about Sandusky
when he saw that little or nothing was being done about it, but he
BECAUSE HE DIDN'T, we suggest that he set a powerful precedent that for years made people down the Penn State pecking order loathe to come forward.
from here is that no one wanted to be identified as the person who
helped bring down Joe Pa's kingdom and destroyed millions of Paterno's
loyal subjects' version of Camelot.
Inevitably, it happened anway, the personal and institutional destruction made worse by a longtime coverup.
MANY A WEST VIRGINIA NATIVE
and Mountaineer fan understands the urge to circle the wagons and
protect our own, be it family, friends or public figures on whom we pin
hopes and group ambitions.
Relationships like this can bring tough Solomonic choices with no
decision available without sacrifice, just one that serves the greater
Sandusky presented Joe Paterno and Penn State with such a decision.
wise choice made in the tale of King Solomon, the Penn State choice
didn't help a child, but in fact hurt numbers of children.
WE SEE PATERNO'S SAGA as more like Shakespeare's King Lear.
It seems at
least a good possibility that seeing his fiefdom collapse so late in
life affected Paterno's will to fight his disease and hastened his
He, too, is a tragic figure of sorts.
THAT SAID --
either by mistakes in judgment or by instincts that were more
self-serving -- Paterno's role in this can't be explained away by
It's a reality -- an unfortunate and unhappy ending chapter in the telling of his long biography.
it all the more tragic to us is that we believe Paterno -- surrounded by
sycophants -- went to his death thinking he had done the right thing,
or at least trusting that he had not done the wrong thing.
IN TIME, it's
likely the good things Paterno did and the overall postitive legacy he
left will outstrip the negatives under which he was deposed.
however, the fact remains that had he done what was right 10 to 15 years
ago and helped point out Sandusky, he truly would have gone down in
history as a man who talked the talk and walked the walk.
Now there's an asterisk next to that description.
WE DON'T THINK
an effort to downplay Paterno's part in sweeping the Sandusky situation
under the carpet will stop, but we don't think it will work, either.
The scandal is there for all to see, a detectable stain that can't be bleached out of the fabric of truth.
It's a reality.
SORRY JOE, we can't respect this.
can't respect the number of Penn State fans who have allowed a mere
flesh and blood coach to become such an icon that they indignantly are
justifying something that can't be justified.
that, their indignance is being thrust toward those in the Penn State
community who finally had the courage to see that Paterno had to go for
the sake of justice and overall good conscience.
End of story.
LET'S HOPE THAT WVU FANS,
as passionate as they are, never reach the level of
tunnel-vision regarding an athletic figure now being displayed about
Paterno by legions of Penn State fans swimming in that Egyptian river
Please tell us this couldn't happen in Morgantown.