Fuck Joe Paterno.
I'm serious. I've never been a big fan of the guy, but that's mainly because I have always found rather unseemly the Cult of the College Coach, the Towering Figure On The Sidelines whose stature is that of godlike power and unaccountability. This business unfolding at Penn State University, however, is breathtaking. I can't think of anything else that comes close.
My father is a collegiate math professor at St. Bonaventure University, a school with a Division I basketball program that has a lot of boosters in that town and has a storied history in the sports lore of Western New York. Eight or nine years ago there was a recruiting scandal at SBU that ended up costing the university president, the athletic director, and the coach their jobs. A recruiting scandal. They broke rules to get a single player on the team.
Penn State's malfeasance is infinitely worse. This isn't a recruiting scandal. Nor is it channeling money to the pockets of NFL agents, or whatever it was that USC and Ohio State did. This was covering up a felony, the kind of crime that, if you're convicted of it, gets you some years in prison, followed by some years of wearing an ankle bracelet and having to tell the authorities where you live, so they can in turn let parents and schools know that there's one of those kinds of criminals in the neighborhood. As ESPN's Rick Reilly writes, "Don't feel sorry for Paterno. He's had his life. Feel sorry for these boys, because they may never get one."
Did Joe Paterno do anything criminal? Apparently not. But we have a tendency in our society to assume that there's a one-to-one correspondence between what is legal and what is moral. There's no question in my mind, none whatsoever, that he did the absolute minimum in a situation that screamed out for way, way, way more than that. If I found out that someone was doing something to The Daughter, and that this person's boss knew about it and their only action was to tell their boss and then go on their merry way, I'd want to kill that guy, too. Paterno is the guy who drives by a car wreck, sees the driver laying bloody on the side of the road, and chucks him a box of Band-aids before driving off.
What happens now? This whole week has been one unseemly thing after another. The 'impromptu' show of support by PSU students on Paterno's lawn. His nauseatingly clueless statement. His decision to retire after the season. PSU plans to still play a home game on Saturday. What the hell kind of atmosphere is that going to be? Will that stadium be filled with 100,000 people screaming their support for this doddering old bastard? Seriously?!
This is the kind of story that makes me hate sports. I'm reminded of the high school football players who caused a car accident that resulted in people suffering significant injuries requiring multiple surgeries and a lot of rehab, and the judge letting them finish the season anyway. Another ESPN writer, Jemele Hill, writes:
But this is the uncomfortable reality in big-time college sports. The NCAA, universities and colleges have created a system that allows coaches to become bigger than the institutions they are supposed to be serving. Because of the escalating salaries earned by college coaches and the pressing funding needs these schools have, the irresponsible actions of coaches not only are often tolerated and overlooked -- remember Ohio State president Gordon Gee joking that he hoped Jim Tressel wouldn't fire him when the school announced a two-game suspension for Tressel? -- but the university officials nominally in charge far too often choose to render themselves powerless.
If Penn State doesn't stop Paterno from coaching again, it sends the message that a powerful coach still is the final authority.
There are more important things than football, and if PSU's season is shot because of this, well, suck it, PSU. Joe Paterno should be gone now, not at the end of the season. And PSU should just cancel the rest of their season. But I doubt either one of those things will happen, because Paterno is a Big Damn God in central PA and PSU football is a religion for some folks.
And calling it a religion is a pretty apt metaphor, I think. Covering up the actions of a pedophile? Congratulation, Penn State University. You've just become the Vatican, with JoePa as your Pope.
So, yeah. Fuck Joe Paterno.
(Comments are off on this one. I haven't the least bit of interest in debating this.)
UPDATE: Now, a few hours after I wrote this post, I see that PSU has fired Paterno. That's the start of doing the right thing.