I can’t quite think straight. And I’m sure that a lot of this reaction is due to the lack of sleep that I’ve been going through.
But I am sitting here at my computer, reading the headlines coming out of Happy Valley, PA, and I am crying.
I am crying for the boys that were abused. I am crying that one last thing in this world that was actually still viewed as good and mostly pure has been tainted. And I am crying for Joe Paterno.
Joe Paterno has been the football coach at Penn Stated for as long as pretty much anybody can remember. He has won 409 games and has surpassed everybody around him. He is a giant in college football and a giant in real life. Loved, respected, and adored by fans, team members, and alumni alike, there was always an old question of ‘When will he retire?” And the answer almost always was, “When he’s damned well ready to.”
Sadly, reality has a way of breaking into even the most safe locations left to us and smashing everything to bits. If you have not heard the story yet, if you do not know what has happened, I will be brief.
Jerry Sandusky, often considered to be JoePa’s #2 at Penn State and the heir apparent until 1999, has been arrested on several counts of sexual assault and misconduct with underage boys. One such assault, as reported from the grand jury investigation, was discovered in a Penn State locker room by one of the assistant coaches. This was reported to Joe Paterno, who then followed the procedures in place and reported it to the Athletic Director and University president. Who then, did nothing. Well, they banned Sandusky from the showers, but he was not fired, and he was not reported to the police.
JoePa did what he was supposed to do. He got a report of abuse, he passed it up the line, and that was his responsibility. But sadly, he did not follow up. He did not push for a result that protected his players and his school. And he is now paying the price for that.
I am not condoning or excusing Joe Paterno’s failure to report this abuse further than he did. He should have done something. He was the coach and his players, his ‘kids’ were in danger. Yes he did what he was supposed to do, but he could have, and probably should have, done more. And he didn’t. And for that, I and I am sure many others, are deeply sorry.
I want to express my feelings of sorrow and empathy for the boys and their families who are living with this, and have been for some time. Nobody should have to go through that. Nobody. But also in my mind and in my heart is always thoughts of JoePa.
He was always going to retire when he was ready. When HE was ready. That could have been this season, it could have been five seasons from now. But because of this scandal. Because his #2 could not keep his hands to himself, and because the school’s administrators cared more about protecting the school than protecting children, JoePa gets no say in when he retires. He has announced that he will retire at the end of the season. Providing that the school’s Board will let him stay that long.
There was always going to be a sad day in Happy Valley, and pretty much everywhere that Penn State Football fans were on the day that JoePa said he was leaving. It was always going to be a day with some high emotions and possibly even some tears. But to have it happen like this. To have the terms of his retirement dictated by events outside of the Man, it is heartbreaking on a whole new level.
This weekend is Penn State’s last home game of the season. They are playing Nebraska. Some many years back there was a bit of a kerfuffle with the BCS and Penn State and Nebraska and the National Title. Both teams were undefeated. Both teams were considered to be the best in the country. They never played each other, so nobody could hold the complete title. And the BCS, considering that Nebraska was a bigger school, or came from a bigger conference, or whatever, Nebraska was given the National Title. And since that year, there has always been this driving force to “Beat Nebraska”.
And this weekend, the kids on the Nittany Lions have the chance to do just that. To Beat Nebraska one last time for JoePa. And I hope, in my heart, that they can do it. That they beat those cornhuskers solidly into the field and then they celebrate in Happy Valley one last time with their coach.
Their coach. Our coach.
It is a bit embarrassing to admit that I am sitting here crying about this. It’s a bit strange to me that I am crying about this. But here I am. Typing this and barely able to see the keys through the tears. For the boys that were abused. For the Coach that is leaving in a way that nobody ever thought he would, and for that one last bit of innocence that had been left.
JoePa did not do everything that he could to help protect the kids under his charge, and other children as well. He knows that, he admits that and has apologized for that. And I in no way am excusing him, or the authorities of Penn State for what they did or didn’t do.
But Joe Paterno, JoePa, deserves a better exit from the sport, and the school he has spent most of his life at, than this. He Deserves, or deserved, the right to control his future and retire when he wanted. To not be pushed out in shame and disgrace.
That is why I am crying. Because all the good that Joe Paterno has done in his life, all the kids that he has helped through school and beyond, all of that, will now forever be tainted by this. His legacy will have an asterik by it forever. And that is crushing. Devastating. And depressing. Again, I am not defending him for not reporting to the police, but he has done so much good in so many other ways, to have this be what he was remembered for…
You are loved, respected, and adored Joe Paterno.
You are, for all intents and purposes a good man. A solid man. A role model.
You have been the face of football in central PA for at least two generations, and you will be remembered.
You will be remembered as a kind man, a tough but loving coach.
You will be remembered, respected, and loved.
Go State! Beat Nebraska!