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Penn State Scandal: Paterno’s Responsibility And Moving Forward

13 - Published November 9, 2011 by in College

This post was totally unforeseen by most people because it covers the recent Penn State scandal. We simply never thought we’d be writing about Joe Paterno and the Nittany Lions in such a negative way… but maybe that’s a big part of the problem. Have truly big-time college athletics become TOO IMPORTANT and TOO TRUSTED in our society?

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The news surrounding allegations of child sexual abuse at the hands of a former assistant coach for the PSU football program is spreading like wildfire in the sports world. Former Coach Jerry Sandusky has been accused by 8 or 9 people now, and the situation for all involved is very serious, as is usually the case with allegations like this. He faces 40 total criminal counts of child sexual abuse.

Sexual abuse is a huge deal, and at least in my eyes, it is one of the worst crimes you can possibly perpetrate as a human being. And it certainly isn’t limited to the Penn State college football team – it happens in a lot of different places. So the child abuse portion of this case is not better or worse because this situation happened at PSU, it’s just really bad and really sad, like every other child sexual abuse case.

But what IS worse are all the rumors that are flying around that Coach Paterno and others at Penn State actually had some idea about what was going on, and that it was swept under the rug. So far events in 1998 and 2002 have been tagged as points where people within the program and beyond supposedly knew about what was going on. If that is true, then this story just took a leap to a whole new level, and Paterno bears even more responsibility than originally thought.

Matt Millen was on ESPN yesterday talking about the situation, and what I found most interesting is that Millen claimed Paterno was the most powerful person at PSU, aside from the School President. It took Millen a while to even think of the President as more powerful. Paterno’s name is even on the school library. The football coach’s name is on the library. Think about that.

I understand that PSU wasn’t a well-known school before Paterno took their football team to National notoriety, and I know that the man has done a ton for the school. No one is debating that. But at the end of the day, Paterno was STILL just a football coach, and he had absolutely no business possessing so much power that he could allow something like this disappear… and from the looks of things, that may have happened at least TWICE.

The issue here is that Paterno didn’t really have to answer to anyone at the school. Presidents and administrators have come and gone, but Joe Pa has always been there. He held a position above or equal to everyone else, and it was all because of success on the football field, and a great personality off of it.  It made sense that Joe Pa was a point of pride for the school, but his elevation to local God clearly backfired in a major way.

Athletics may help a number of major colleges and universities pay their bills and achieve national renown, but if we truly believe that College is a place for education, we need to remember that athletics answer to academics, and it can NEVER be the other way around. Penn State has clearly lost the tack on this issue. They allowed a man who ran ONE team on campus to basically run the whole campus, and from the allegations made in 1998 and 2002, it seems like there was little to no effective oversight of the program. Winning in football was what mattered, and everything else came second.

Is this an especially overblown reaction by yours truly? Am I being too harsh on Paterno? I don’t think so.

When it comes out that your football players were selling jerseys or breaking NCAA rules, like at OSU, it’s easy to shrug it off. But when it’s alleged that one of your former assistants was sexually abusing young boys in the showers of the football program’s facility? There is no such thing as an overblown reaction. The fact that it is alleged to have kept going for this long, and with other people’s knowledge (possibly including Paterno himself) is just downright scary.

Am I picking on Penn State here? You bet I am.

It seems like they promoted athletics over personal responsibility and even a very basic code of morals.  They verbally preached moral fortitude day in and day out.  And we all bought into it.  But they also allowed a man who had little to no academic bearing to run the University in many ways, and they placed an importance on football that many NFL teams don’t possess. They made it a professional sport at the school, and that is why they lost their way. Football did a lot of good at PSU for a long time, but relying on sports in an academic setting is simply not sustainable if an excellent overall university setting is what the school wants.

If there is one thing that other schools can take away from this situation it is that they all need to evaluate how highly they value athletics. Athletics can not be allowed to dominate the college landscape; college sports must answer to a higher authority at EACH individual university.

I’m certainly not saying that Joe Paterno is legally guilty of a crime, or that this is all his fault.  I don’t know enough to even begin to make those assertions. But I do know that the responsibility for this situation has rested firmly on his shoulders for years, as the leader of the school. Right now, it’s all allegations and criminal charges, and information is still coming out, but if it is all proven to be true, Joe Paterno has to bear the weight. After all, it was his show to run.

A house cleaning is in order no matter what, but on top of that, PSU (and every school) seriously needs to take a closer look at how they value athletics. Sports can do a lot for your school when approached correctly, but when football wins trump basic morals and values, something is clearly wrong.

We’ve seen scandals at a number of big-time D1 sports programs over the past couple of years, and for one reason or another they all seem to get compartmentalized. A little blame is given out, usually to a few players (many of whom have usually graduated already), and teams move on.

But I think, and truly hope, that something good will eventually come from this situation.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and big-time college athletics programs, and their respective Universities are in dire need of facing this fact.

We can not forget the people who were (allegedly) hurt, but moving forward is important too, and I hope schools take a closer look at the environments they are fostering on campus so that things like the PSU scandal don’t ever happen again.  This scandal is crushing Joe Paterno and Penn State football’s legacy already, and some will argue that this is unfair because nothing has been proven.  But the bottom line is that Joe Paterno ran the show at Penn State, this scandal allegedly happened right under his nose, and it was his JOB to make things right.  And no amount of past good deeds exonerates him from that responsibility now or in the future.

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