Musings of a Mountain Man - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Musings of a Mountain Man

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"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." - Lord Acton
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   WE INTERRUPT 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.
 
   It does 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.
 
   It calls 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.
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   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 Paterno.
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   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.
 
   It appears, 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 mid-1990s.
 
   This troubles us and we feel compelled -- after a few days of contemplation -- to address the Penn State scandal in general and Joe Paterno in particular.
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   IT MAY BE AN OVERSTATEMENT (maybe) to say that Joe Paterno became a religious figure of sorts to a Mass of Penn State followers.
 
   To keep 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.
 
   We think 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 rules.
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   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 police blotters.
 
   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?
 
   Sandusky, 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.
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   PATERNO ACOLYTES, 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 room shower.
 
   By 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.
 
   Curley and 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.
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  THERE WERE NO CHARGES
brought against Paterno, indicating that he met the legal requirement to keep 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.
 
   CHILD MOLESTATION!
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   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?;
 
   Or was 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.
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   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 football?
 
   Was 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.
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   PATERNO ALMOST INARGUABLY was the most powerful single figure at Penn State at the time and for decades before.
 
   When Paterno 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?
 
   Paterno 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 didn't.
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   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.
 
   The view 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.
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   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 good.
 
   Sandusky presented Joe Paterno and Penn State with such a decision.
 
   Unlike the 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.
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   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 demise.
 
   He, too, is a tragic figure of sorts.
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   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 hyperbole.
 
   It's a reality -- an unfortunate and unhappy ending chapter in the telling of his long biography.
 
   What makes 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.
 
   To us, 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.
 
   We also 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.
 
   Not only 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 called denial.
 
   Please tell us this couldn't happen in Morgantown.
 
   Please.
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