Joe Paterno would be the first to say that the real tragedy in the Penn State debacle are the damages done to the boys who were victims of Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky. The crimes as described are horrifying.
Far less important, yet important nonetheless, is the shameful and hasty way the Board of Trustees at Penn state threw a 48 year old legendary employee under the bus. One would think that Paterno deserved more than this given his absolutely sterling record as a leader of young men, his monumental financial and emotional commitment to Penn State University, and his commitment to the Pennsylvania community. This is not to mention the literally billions of dollars his successful football program generated for the University, community businesses, and others.
But the Board of Trustees had far more important things to consider. They could not stand up to the outrageous frenzy of the press, and while they say they deliberated “long and carefully”, there is no way this could be true. 48 years do not get undone in 12 hours. “Careful” decisions are not made when sharks are circling and screaming for blood, and when culpability is spread across such a wide swath, albeit in varying degrees, with few of the facts known.
It would make an interesting college psychology course to study the reactions of so many in the press. Andy Staples on the “online” cover: of Sports Illustrated.com declaring “Paterno Must Go”, and so many more uninformed writers with 20% of the facts drawing definitive conclusions. And requesting IMMEDIATE action. What, other than the obvious outrage at the terrible impact these incidents have on the victims, was driving their anger directed at a man that has 48 years of almost fantastic positive capital? I can tell you it wasn’t the facts of the case, because we still don’t know them. If I could play amateur psychologist, I’m certain in some cases it is some deep-seeded issue writers and broadcasters have with bringing down an icon, proving “see, he’s not as perfect as you thought”, who have hidden anger and issues having nothing whatsoever to do with Penn State and the incidents there.
I’m not saying all calls to have Paterno quickly fired were wrong. I understand where some were coming from. But the frenzy, the psychosis, the visceral reactions directed at Joe Paterno as if he himself had assaulted those boys says something about many in the sports media world.
A responsible Board of Trustees would have deliberated more carefully, and over a longer period of time. They could have taken a week, gathered more facts, and in the end if they needed to fire Paterno they could have done so with thorough knowledge of the facts. Or, what I think is more likely, the detailed facts separated from the emotional frenzy of the last few days would have led them to consider keeping Paterno until season’s end, or even longer.
Last night, in an emotional response to Paterno’s firing, I turned to my 13 year old son and said “if I was a player on Penn State I would boycott the game this weekend”. I quickly pulled back from that, but it’s an example of how we say things (and in the case of the Board, do things) that are illogical when we react too quickly.
If I were a player at Penn State, or I were a student at Penn State, I would see a larger calling for myself right now. My perspective would be “a legend who has been here for 48 years, who has done so much for my University and University community, who was one of the country’s great role models, is leaving. I happen to be here now, and I must find ways to show support to Joe Paterno, and do so in ways that Paterno would be proud of. This would include showing support publicly on campus, in the media if I could get on, and by cheering my lungs out for the football team on Saturday.”
Then, of course, there would eventually be contributing financially to the foundation a man like Joe Paterno will almost certainly create to help protect children from abuse.
For the remainder of the college football season I’m going to put other loyalties aside and I’m going to cheer for the Nittany Lions all the way.