By Kevin McGuire
July 12, 2012
Joe Paterno died on January 22, 2012. The Joe Paterno I thought I knew died today, July 12, 2012.
The Freeh Report, as widely expected, told a damning tale of the efforts to protect Jerry Sandusky's public profile, and thus the brand of Penn State football. In doing so the tarred imaged of Paterno was finally feathered, as we learned that Paterno in fact knew of the 1998 investigation in to Jerry Sandusky, a man found guilty of 45 out of 48 counts related to child and sexual abuse.
According to the findings within the Freeh Report, Paterno not only knew of the 1998 Sandusky incident, a fact he disputed during previous testimony, but he also took part in determining how Sandusky was allowed to retire as defensive coordinator a year later. I have no doubt there is more information linked to this incident, and I look forward to seeing what else comes out through the judicial process with Tim Curley and Gary Schultz. Paterno also, according to the report, was provided updates on the 1998 investigation until it was considered to be all squared away.
Before I continue, please allow me to remind you the point of view and background I am coming from. Hopefully it will show that even someone who grew up within the Penn State football culture can come to grips with the dark and harsh reality of today's latest revelations.
I learned just about everything I know about college football by attending and watching Penn State football games. Many families place a star or angel on top of their Christmas trees. My family alternated between a greeting card-sized image of Snoopy on top of his dog house and Joe Paterno (this is not even an exaggeration). Paterno's turn in the Christmas tree rotation happened on odd years but a special exception was made in 1994 in my family.
My mother spent 12 years of night classes at a satellite campus getting a Penn State nursing degree, which she started pursuing as I was an infant. My father attended a state school but followed Penn State football and bought a membership to the alumni foundation. My sister went to Penn State. So did my cousin. So did half of my high school. To put it simply, the Penn State football culture surrounded my childhood, adolescence and through the early stages of my adult life.
But I did not attend Penn State. While I continued to follow and support the Nittany Lions, I have made every attempt possible to remove myself from being "a Penn Stater" when it came to assessing the football program. The first time I was approved for a media credential at Penn State there was a part of me that could not have been happier. Being in the same room as Paterno was a thrill for me on the inside, but I ever felt any ingrained bias clouded my views on the program on and off the field, though some would suggest otherwise (I get it).
Joe Paterno was my hero, I will not be ashamed to say. I admired him for his charity and simple-way of living. For his devotion to his craft. For his old stories he would repeat annually. For his disgust with certain reporters. For his vision of a playoff.
For his "Success With Honor," mantra.
You will notice I wrote that phrase in the past-tense.
I am not going to sit here and bang out a whole lecture on why Penn State fans should stop rooting for their team, nor will I call for donations to be halted. Those are not my decisions to make. What happened at Penn State was sickening on so many levels. Since last November I felt that Paterno had become an easy, and lazy, target in what was certainly an issue much larger than the iconic coach with rolled up khakis and Coke-bottle sunglasses.
Strong statements were made. Calls for Paterno's firing were quick. Some said the Paterno statue must be torn down. Some suggested that Penn State be issued the death penalty by the NCAA, or at least that they should not have attended a bowl game last season. All along I cautioned people to not be too quick to judge, and await the information to be revealed during the trial of Sandusky and any subsequent report.
Well, the trial has come and gone and now the Freeh Report has been issued. Here is my opinion now.
Paterno is no longer a hero. He also is no longer a scapegoat.
Paterno appears to have put himself in a situation in which he could have been a real hero by putting an end to child abuse. I have faith that the Freeh Report was thoroughly conducted, as a federal judge and FBI director was at the helm. That is not to say some information could be more in-depth, nor is it to say everything in it is actually true. Having doubts about some things is fair, as the report was commissioned by the Penn State Board of Trustees. While I have faith that Freeh conducted this report ina serious manner, I also held much faith in the sanctity of Paterno. Lesson learned?
I had held out hope that Paterno, a man I thought could do almost no serious wrong, would be shown to have been a man of true character. I had hoped that Paterno's involvment would have started and ended with the Mike McQueary situation. Though that would not make anything better mind you, and Paterno still would have been fairly criticized for later in-actions, at least we could have made an argument that Paterno did do everything he could or should have done. Nope. Paterno is reported to have known about Sandusky's vile acts a year after McQueary wrapped up his final season as the starting quarterback.
So what do I think now? Let me briefly run down some of the big points here that people are talking about.
Can anyone truly defend Paterno any more? Probably not, given what we have seen to this point. There will always be a segment of apologists who will fight in favor of the good Paterno did accomplish in his position. And he did do plenty of good, even well before the first Sandusky incident became known. Let's not forget that, but do not be fooled in to thinking people who have done so much could not possibly do so little.
Is "Success With Honor" ruined? The easy answer is yes, but that should not be the case. The values preached by Paterno, such as success coming on the field as much as in the classroom, should still remain a pillar of any academic institution. Perhaps a new coat of paint is needed though.
Should the Paterno statue be taken down? Probably, but keep it in secure storage because in time it may become appropriate to give the community a symbol to gather around once again. Opinions and feelings change over time. Who is to say in 20 years, or 50 years the sentiment about Paterno will not change? We don't know, so take it down but do not melt it down.
Finally, is the NCAA death penalty warranted? The Freeh Report will surely be reviewed and followed up by the NCAA, who is already in the process of reviewing Penn State. But will the NCAA look at the grounds of institutional control and feel it their responsibility to make a stand? I don't think so. Yes, what happened at Penn State is far worse than anything that happened at SMU, Miami, Ohio State, USC, UNC and so on. Any school would rather have to deal with paying players through agents and slush funds than have to recover from child sexual abuse. But that is exactly why the NCAA may not take action against Penn State.
At SMU, Ohio State, USC, Miami and every other program having to deal with NCAA rules, how many had to deal with the criminal process the way Penn State is? The NCAA can easily make a case that covering up sexual abuse on campus grounds demonstrates a lack of institutional control and more, but that is why there is a judicial system that will result in lawsuits after lawsuits. Cut back on scholarships and even go so far to keep Penn State out of the postseason for the good of the NCAA name. Something needs to be done by the NCAA, but the death penalty will need to have a little more to be supported.
About the Author
Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB) is a college football journalist and host of the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. He resides outside of Philadelphia.