Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Paterno’s Once Faultless Legacy Turns Rotten


The perception we have of influential figures, especially in sports, too often wheedle the folks to believe athletes and coaches are beyond spotless in situations. Whatever the assumptions we have of Joe Paterno, a legendary head coach who is the winningest coach in Division I football history, he is stuck in the middle of a predicament.

These days, many of whom are dampened and saddened by the allegations of the infamous sex crimes at Penn State, he is in the center of a scandal that seems surreal. A statue stands tall outside of Beaver Stadium that exhibits the iconic figure, mostly deemed as the ambassador of the university and community ever since he arrived to coach Penn State in 1966. That iconic figure, in a culture that has suddenly crippled under his tutelage, is Paterno.

All week heavy talk has surrounded a sex abuse scandal that has incredibly demolished the university and its image, and as much as we’d hate to see Paterno exit with an obscure legacy, it would be very surprising if he survives the rest of the season as head coach. The notion that Paterno’s legacy will be sullied and smeared, when he cemented a feat that seemed untarnished and unprecedented after coaching Penn State for half a century, is conceivable with what’s happening — he rose as a motivational figure and drastically had fallen as a polarizing self.

It’s too sad — upon hearing that Jerry Sandusky, a longtime assistant, was charged with sexually abusing eight boys over a 15-year span – that Paterno is unfairly blamed for the incident of sex crimes. The state of the university, as in any developing scandal that emerges in the public’s view, is leaving folks gathering facts on what really happened, on what he knew, on what more he could have done to stop the sex involvements by the then-assistant.

With all the hysteria, Paterno is betrayed for seemingly keeping the truth veiling and covering the sexual activities that took place under his tenure. He always has a coat and tie, cuffs rolled up and white socks with thick glasses, a trademark that has defined the stylish custodian in Happy Valley.

Just when we were beginning to forecast his place in history – a career built with distinction, remarkable accomplishments and exploits no other coach can replicate in years – the revelations of the horrendous scandal tattered his legacy.

He is older now, and wiser, but he’s been criticized harshly when others are involved in this incident as well, just not being polarized simply because they are not the symbol of what Penn State represents. He is, no matter what the naysayers or cynics believe, the most accomplished coach in the history of college football, yet his place in history is battered by the recent allegations.

What more could he have done to protect the university’s identity? Why didn’t he report the alleged child molestation to police? What does he know??

As much as Paterno is the focal point — becoming the greatest curiosity in a small town that idolizes him — as much as we’d like to know the truth, we may never know if he had knowledge of what had happened. The scandal took another twist on Wednesday for which Paterno, 84, announced he will retire at the end of the season and said that he was devastated.

“This is a tragedy,” Paterno said in the statement while announcing his retirement, which was released Wednesday morning. “It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”

It’s too late.

It’s been a half of century and Paterno has preached achievements, but his legend was damaged sadly by the poor judgment from trustees, the coaching staff and the university’s president. What is still uncertain is whether the school’s board of trustees will force Paterno out the door or allow him to coach Saturday’s game against Nebraska. While few people reserve judgment, others vilify Paterno and graduate/assistant coach Mike McQueary for allowing the sexual assault without reporting it.

The grand jury, regarding this case, said McQueary witnessed Sandusky naked and molesting a 10-year old in the shower in the university’s facilities. He saw him shove his penis into the boy’s butt, and refused to stop it and decided to walk out without coming to the kid’s aid.

By the next day, McQueary took it upon himself and told Paterno, and then Paterno told them, but they ignored it. In fairness, it is essential to hold everyone accountable for acting inappropriately and mishandling a sex crime that went unreported. The other night, while Paterno rested peacefully in his home, students demonstrated their support of the senior citizen and crowded his house at dusk.

Of all the hearsay, Paterno is lambasted strongly by the media, scrutinized and betrayed for not doing enough to resolve the sex issues. The media circus interrogated him and his son, Scott, on Tuesday as Paterno tried to leave his home in peace for an afternoon practice with his players. There’s even been criticism from the Philadelphia Daily News when the headline read “SHAME” with Paterno featuring on the front page.

The university must come forth and dismiss McQueary, and for everyone else associated with Penn State, they should all step down except Paterno. But for the sake of the university, Paterno should not be walking the sideline on Saturday to coach on senior day at Beaver Stadium as it will draw too much of a ruckus with swarms of reporters pontificating and seeking answers at a press conference that will turn into a circus to steal the senior’s moment.

Although this seems silly and Paterno did what he was supposed to do, only not informing the president or authorities, he should take time off and then come back. When he told athletic director Tim Curley, who ignored the allegations and failed to react seriously, he then needed to tell the vice president Gary Schultz and Penn State president Graham Spanier.

This case is agonizing, and now that the culture is distrusted and blameworthy, Spanier needs to have a sense of pride and courtesy and resign. It’s an absolute shame that the general public urges Paterno to carry himself with honor and graciousness and resign by the end of the week, though he’s guilty by association and for actions from his former defensive coordinator. There is no way, in our insane, tangled society, no way will parents send their children to Penn State if this current staff is still directing the football program.

It’s devastating that a fine football program in America, a recognized university has fallen from grace all because Penn State officials mishandled a situation involving children being sexually abused. These allegations are sickening to our stomachs, perturbing our senses, sadly burning our hearts and souls as we are disheartened, stunned and mad to learn that children were molested at an institution.

“I’m so upset,” said the mother of a now 24-year-old identified as Victim Six by the grand jury. “My son is extremely distraught, and now to see how we were betrayed, words cannot tell you.”

Now, I’m getting infuriated over this senseless act.

It would now, in hindsight, be a good time for Penn State to change the culture immediately. The disgraced Curley was shamed by all of this that he chose to take a leave of absence to prepare for his defense. If anyone deserves much of the blame, it’s Curley – which is why he stepped down Monday after being charged with perjury and he also failed to report an alleged incident of child sex abuse. Just as recently, Curley and Schultz were arraigned Monday in a South Paxson, Pa. District Court and each were released after posting a $75,000 bail bond.

Meanwhile, Paterno’s 46-year reign is nearing its end as Happy Valley is renamed Infamy Valley. In the wake of the sex scandal, it has raised questions on campus but away from campus people are devastated, requesting for JoePa’s resignation, roughly asking him to make the respectable decision by stepping down from his duties. The moral standard in 2002 would have been to contact the police, but nobody – not one Penn State official called to report the incident.

The Paterno era is nearing its terminal, all because the situation was handled cowardly. Nobody had morals — everyone was apathetic and negligent about the sex crimes. Nobody had respect or admiration for the program. Nobody. They all failed as a university, from the trustees to the athletic department and now they can only blame themselves for such failure and humiliation.

When a child is molested, common sense tells you to call the police. Paterno told and nothing was done. It would be interesting to see, if he is cleared to coach Saturday, how the partisan crowd in Happy Valley will react when he emerges from the tunnel onto the field. As we should expect, he’ll be given a standing ovation and cheered like a town hero, and he is worthy of warm receptions.

The question is, will his legacy ever remain intact and will there be a celebration for his departure after his longevity and distinguished coaching career? Who would have thought that the end was near?

It is only fair to hold everyone accountable. So far, no one is pushing him out the door for partly sabotaging Penn State’s football program. But sadly, he won’t leave on his own terms.

If he is dismissed real soon, he’ll be remembered for the ruination of a well-established football program, but will he be remembered as the most successful coach?