Thursday, July 19, 2012

Who Wants to Read Another Joe Paterno Opinion Piece???

I've long resisted writing about Joe Paterno and the Penn State child abuse scandal, because one thing the internet does not need is more Penn State / Joe Paterno opinion pieces. Most of said opinion pieces can be classified into one of two categories:

1) "Child abuse is WRONG! Those involved should be punished to the fullest extent of the law! The Freeh Report proves that Paterno was involved and complicit! Penn State should - no, MUST - take down Joe Paterno's statue, shut down the football program altogether, or something in between!"
2) "This is a media-led witch hunt! The Joe Paterno I know couldn't POSSIBLY have been complicit. Don't blame him, blame Spanier/Curley/Schultz/etc.! I mean, look at all of the good things Joe Paterno has done!!!"

And, subsequently, the authors of the #2s - who often have some kind of Penn State connection - are then met by some kind of strong, emotional, slandering rebuke from the people who wrote the #1s.

In case you're wondering where this piece will fall on that spectrum, I'd say...1.2? 1.3? That's the goal, anyway.

I own degrees from both Florida State University and Penn State University. While I root for both schools' sports teams, I generally follow FSU sports more; however, until recently, it would be accurate to say that I was "more proud" of my Penn State association. Florida State has had its share of scandals over the years. But not Penn State! Penn State is - well, used to be - all that is well and good in college sports. Those scandals that happen everywhere else don't happen at Penn State. We're better than that. And best of all, we have Joe Paterno, who has done a tone of good for the community and university, and is as far removed from scandal as you can get. And he's ours! Take that, Ohio State!

That's why this is so hard for some Penn Staters to accept. As it turns out, we're just like every other corrupt collegiate athletic program. Actually, we're worse than everyone else. MUCH worse.

"But...but...he's Joe Paterno! Look at all the good he's done! This must be some kind of big misunderstanding. Spanier can rot in hell, but the REAL Paterno, the one I know, is better than that." Well...here's the main point I want to make here. You may think you know who your heroes are, but really, you don't. Yes, you see them a lot on television and such, and you may have been met them or worked with them in person. But the truth is, outside of your family, you don't really know anyone. Many of us have secrets. Some of us have darker secrets than others. And there is absolutely no way for you to know the difference. This came to mind when NASCAR suspended A.J. Allmendinger for a failed drug test two weeks back. Yeah, it seems out of character, and it's possible that it was a harmless over-the-counter supplement that triggered the positive. But that's what they all say, and how do we know for sure that Allmendinger isn't a methhead or something? We don't. There is simply no way for us to know.

"But...but...everyone has flaws! Just lay off the guy already. I mean, he's dead." Well...helping to cover up sexual crimes against young boys is a pretty big flaw. Yes, Paterno did do a lot of good things for a lot of people. But was that because he was truly a "good person" (whatever that means), or was that all a part of building this mythological, flawless image of himself, which he helped parlay into a long and successful coaching career? We'll never know what his true motives were. And you could say that about any person or organization, really. I always think this when I see major corporations or sports leagues promoting their charitable work. Does the NFL really give a crap about the United Way, or do they only do charity work for business reasons / publicity? And is it okay for a corporation to donate to charity strictly for the publicity, or do they have to, I guess, mean it? My opinion: a world in which corporations donate to charity strictly for the publicity is better than a world in which corporations do not donate to charity, so good for them, but let's not fool ourselves into thinking that companies like BP / coaches like Joe Paterno are really interested in anything except money / winning.

"But...but...how do we know the Freeh Report is correct and unbiased? Look at all the skeletons in Louis Freeh's closet!" Come on now. I know it's hard accept given that he was one of the supposed good guys, but it's time to move on.

And what does moving on mean? Removing the Paterno statue? Shutting down football altogether? I think the issue of the statue has been overblown, but my opinion is that it should be moved from the stadium to a museum of some kind, accompanied by a biography which includes the good, and the bad. And I also think that people who write that Penn State should end football, even just temporarily, are simply trying to appear more righteous than the next person and/or trying to draw attention to themselves.

I was always fond of Paterno, and he was part of what made me proud to be a fan of the Penn State football team. I did think that, perhaps, the media was being a little overzealous in painting everyone at Penn State in a bad light when this scandal first broke. That's that the media does - they build people up, and then they tear them down. An awful lot of self-righteous, #1-type pieces in the media immediately followed, and I tried to see through all that at first. But for me, the Freeh Report pretty much settled all of that. It was hard to accept, sure, because we all had this image of the Penn State football program as being "above" the nonsense that goes on everywhere else, and that image ultimately proved to be wrong.

It's time we get away from the idea that a university and its football program are one and the same. Being proud of the football team (no longer true) and being proud to be a Penn State alumnus (still true) are two different things, and Joe Paterno has never had anything to do with the latter. I still wear Penn State apparel with pride, despite the football program, and despite the school's past administration.

Whether I remain a "Penn State football fan" long term, however, remains to be seen. Some of my friends give me crap for steadfastly changing my rooting interests in sports. (Speaking of which, how about those Washington Nationals???) But isn't overly blind support and trust how we got into this mess in the first place?

1 comment:

Jeff said...

Very well said.