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NOT-SO-HAPPY VALLEY, PA… If you follow sports and have been within contact of any type of media over the past week, you no doubt know of the scandal unfolding out at Penn State University. Briefly, a former assistant coach on Joe Paterno’s staff, Jerry Sandusky, is alleged to have had illegal sexual contact with at least eight minors, and perhaps many more. During a youth football camp in 2002, it is alleged that another assistant coach on Paterno’s staff, Mike McQueary, witnessed Sandusky having inappropriate sexual contact with a young boy in a shower.
McQueary told Paterno what he had witnessed, then Paterno passed on to his superiors the information given him, and then the whole matter went silent. Until now. It is silent no more. Sandusky has been arrested, as well as two other Penn State officials. And now Paterno has been fired along with University President Graham Spanier. The resulting fallout from this has included mass protest and a mini-riot from those offended at the dismissal of Paterno. In addition, with a full-tilt media blitz weighing in mostly against Paterno, the court of public opinion outside of Happy Valley has basically hung him in effigy.
Before I speak my piece, let me illuminate a couple of things for you. I am not a Penn State fan. I have respected their football program over the years because they have represented excellence and quality in what they do. I am a fan of Joe Paterno. He has pretty much, as far as I know, run a high-grade program, did so without scandal or NCAA violation, and did so within the cesspool of cheating and dubious standards that major college football is. Not was, but is. Yes, you read correctly.
Next, I absolutely abhor and have nothing but the ultimate contempt for anyone who would perpetrate ANY act of physical or mental abuse of a kid anywhere, at any time. If I had been the person to have caught Sandusky doing what he is alleged to have done, I can only tell you that it would have been a really, really bad day for him. My first wish here is that all of the alleged victims have been located and are receiving any and all help and counseling necessary to ensure their physical and mental health. That this matter has not been addressed until now makes them victims twice—let me be clear about that.
But let me get on to Joe-pa. Has Joe been treated fairly, has he received due process? In the haste of this matter, did the Board of Trustees act too quickly on Paterno to give the appearance that they were on top of this matter, when it is clear to me that they haven’t been? Don’t get me wrong—after a thorough investigation, it just might come out in the wash that Paterno’s actions and possible inaction are just cause for his dismissal. Has this occurred? My gut feeling is that there has been a possible rush to judgment. Why hasn’t McQueary been fired like Paterno? Their positions and actions are much alike.
I believe that Paterno has prided himself over the years on running an above-board program. He recruits good student athletes that walk the right path and compete hard. Sure, the program has had its ups and downs, I’m certain. But off-field trouble and violations have not been a part of Joe’s teams. You have to know that he has been at the school for decades. He is an institution at the institution. There also is a faction that has wanted to push him out the door and on to retirement for many years standing now. They believe his presence now is holding back the program, not pushing it to the glorious heights it once enjoyed. Some of them are on the B-O-T.
But the questions around Paterno seem to center on an alleged lack of follow-through. Should Paterno have notified law enforcement himself of what the assistant coach witnessed? Should he have followed through with the people he reported the incident to, to ensure that they were following through? Why didn’t Joe see this through? Because Sandusky was a friend and fellow coach? Was he afraid in the knowledge of what this would do to the program that he had so carefully put together? Was he worried that possible charges might not stick somehow and that could open him up to litigation? Was it such an excruciatingly crude subject and situation that he just froze up, unable to do what he knew he should do? I don’t have those answers, but I try to put myself into Joe’s shoes.
You can argue that Joe is like that old neighbor of yours who has worked and toiled at his job for so long that he gets possessive, he can’t let go. You see him out by his creation every fall Saturday afternoon, engineers cap on, oil can in one hand, wrench in the other, tinkering away, obsessively so perhaps. Boys, if we do this, this and that, we can win! We will be champions! We just need to fix this a little and tweak that…
At the end of the day I, like so many others, have more questions than answers. I hope that an independent and fair investigation will answer all of them. I hope that all of the victims receive the healing they must surely need. And I will continue to wonder one thing: if Joe had to go, did he have to be treated so harshly on the way out? In no way will his tribulations ever match up with those of the victims, but still… PEACE
MFAN NFL PICKS FOR WEEK ELEVEN:
(HOME team in CAPS)
J-e-t-s over DENVER
BALT over Cincy
CLEVE over Jax
LION over Caro
CHEESE BAY over T-bay
Buff over MIAMI
Oak over VIKES
Boys over WASH
STL over Seattle
SAN FRAN over Cards
ATL over Tenn
BEAR over San Diego
NYG over Philly
PATS over Chefs
Last week: 8-8; Season: 93-53
OVER & OUT!
Marc Elliott is a free lance sports opinion writer who splits time between his hometown in Illinois and Minnesota. Elliott grew up in the Twin Cities with many of his childhood neighbors working or playing for the Vikings and Twins. He participated in baseball, football and hockey before settling on hockey as his own number one sport. Elliott recently wrote “The Masked Fan Speaks” column for the Lake County News Chronicle for the past ten years and was a prominent guest on the former “All Sports” WDSM 710AM in Duluth.