Hard To Look Away From (Un)Happy Valley By Jeff Rapp
There is actually an Ohio State football game this weekend. There really is. We’ll even talk about it tonight on “Bucksline.” I swear. But what is going on in State College, Pa., right now is so mesmerizing, so surreal, so sad and appalling, that it trumps the entire upcoming college football weekend – and much more than that.
Ohio State at Purdue on Saturday (noon Eastern, Big Ten Network) is important for the Buckeyes (6-3, 3-2). If they win they have set a course for true Big Ten title contention and big-time upcoming games with Penn State and Michigan.
But the OSU-Purdue contest on the surface wouldn’t have been worth more hype than Michigan State at Iowa, Michigan at Illinois or Nebraska at Penn State this weekend. And now we are left wondering what good really even will come out of the Nittany Lions’ final home game with Nebraska.
We know that Joe Paterno won’t be there as the head coach – he was fired Wednesday night by the school’s board of trustees along with university president Graham Spanier. Somehow that decision was met with disgust by the locals, who obviously still haven’t grasped the severity of the situation and are more worried about the legacy of a way-over-the-hill coach than they are the well-being of male victims that have alleged that Jerry Sandusky sexually abused them when they were as young as 8 and 10 years old.
Sandusky has been cuffed and taken away. His day in court will come – and it won’t be pretty. Two other men of prominence at the school, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz, also have been indicted for a cover-up that I’m fearing we will find out is even worse than we now know.
I have followed this story, been absorbed by it, and, of course, been nauseated by it. I’ve read countless articles and columns, many of them superbly written as it was obvious in tone that the severely harmful reach of what Sandusky apparently struck those paid to cover and comment on these tragic events, just as it shookc the university and the general public.
I watched the live announcement last night in which one of Penn State’s top board members, U.S. Steel CEO John Surma, told the world that the president and the coach, despite his attempts to leave on his own terms, were being shown the door. You could hear an audible shock-filled groan when Surma said Paterno was out; not a bit of reaction on Spanier.
Then the whole decision allowed drunken students and dimwits to begin hitting the streets, flipping over news trucks and shouting about how unfair this all is to the 46-year living legend head coach.
It may seem that way if your brain is soaking in alcohol or you haven’t bothered to put any real thought into what an affront on humanity has occurred on campus, at the school’s football facility, in the showers there and God knows where else.
Should Joe Paterno be held at least partly responsible? Absolutely. He’s the head coach and he basically allowed these horrible crimes to continue by not doing more than merely tipping off the AD. No, we don’t know the whole story yet but it’s fairly safe to say that he, like his superiors, was more concerned with backlash, the program and school reputation than the victims.
The whole lot of them put brand identity before children – the safety, well-being and healthy future of children. It’s too despicable for words, even in the case of Paterno, who obviously has shown throughout his life that he’s a well-meaning man, a family man, and someone who values the development and education of young people.
He lost the privilege of deciding when he got to leave his post, how he was going to leave his post and how much more adoration he was going to soak in after announcing it. That went out the window with the recent chain of events – and it flitted away because his good friend and former defensive coordinator is clearly a predator and he either refused to believe it, covered it up or didn’t quite grasp the severity of his wreckage.
Saying Paterno may have been too old or too out of touch to really do anything is lame. Protecting that frailty and not allowing him to speak on the subject also is lame. He’s the head football coach at a major institution and gets paid handsomely for that responsibility.
He hasn’t been doing much recruiting for years. He hasn’t been yukking it up at alumni functions beyond a brief stop-by for years. He hasn’t even been a real functioning coach on the sideline for years.
He’s coached in 548 games, sharing an all-time record with Amos Alonzo Stagg, and has won 409 of them, passing by one the previous all-time record held by Eddie Robinson. Nobody is threatening to take any of those games away. The NCAA is not even involved in this case.
His legacy – like those of Woody Hayes, Jim Tressel and Bobby Knight if we really need an Ohio State tie here – is tarnished but his name will still be synonymous with incredible success and the positive effect on many, many lives. In other words, Joe Paterno will remain a beloved figure to Penn State fans and many others.
This is an 84-year-old coach who has been on the job since 1966 and has been deprived a chance to preside over four or maybe five more college football games. Is that really worth grabbing a tire iron and looking to smash in somebody’s car window?
Grow up, people, and try to help start the long, difficult healing process ahead.
And go ahead and beat Nebraska if you can because there is a team lurking in the Leaders Division.