If you are a loyal, unwavering fan of Penn State football and legendary Coach Joe Paterno, I'd advise you to stop reading this column immediately and turn the page. What follows will not make you happy, and I understand and respect your feelings, but I get paid to write opinions and so I shall ... with no punches pulled.
In the wake of the recently released Freeh report on the sexual abuse scandal the university has had to endure thanks to assistant grid coach and convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky, here's what I think should happen if Penn State is sincere about saving its fragile reputation as a top-notch institution of higher learning and a place where parents are honored to send their children:
The god-like statue of Paterno that greets adoring fans outside the Nittany Lions' stadium should be removed ... period ... and the sooner the better; the entire Board of Trustees and all administrators should resign and seek employment elsewhere; the football program should be completely disbanded for at least five years; and all current and incoming football players should be given the opportunity to transfer to another school with no penalties incurred (like having to sit out one full season).
Sound too harsh? Actually, it's probably not harsh enough considering the ugly, horrific story that has unfolded behind the walls of that storied college over the past 14 years. To take any other course of action would defy the basic principles Penn State supposedly stands for. It's time for PSU to forget about football and instead focus on the young lives and minds they are paid to mold into upstanding, productive citizens that can make this nation, this world, a better place.
I could care less if Paterno coached for 100 years and racked up a million victories, his accomplishments do not take precedence over the fact he was aware Sandusky could possibly be raping young boys as far back as 1998. When informed such inappropriate behavior was happening within his "inner circle," Paterno failed to take the proper course of action, and his legacy is forever, permanently tarnished. As well it should be.
Rather than informing the proper authorities about what he knew about his buddy Sandusky and thus stop the creep from sexually abusing any more kids (which he proceeded to do multiple times over the next decade and a half) Paterno opted to sweep the matter under the rug and thus preserve his reputation as the all-time greatest and ensure the Lion football program would not suffer as a result of the "bad publicity" that was sure to follow.
Are you kidding me? The man who could have been elected governor of Pennsylvania, perhaps even president of the United States, put his own ego, his "legacy" and total gridiron victories ahead of the life-altering crimes being carried out by the monster known as Sandusky.
Like it or not, that's exactly what happened and even the most devout Penn State supporter knows deep in his or her heart that it's true. Painfully true, to be sure, but true nonetheless.
By trying to protect his sparkling image and the reputation of PSU football, Paterno instead destroyed it all. A lifetime of achievement thrown away because of a stupid, inhumane decision he made near the end of his career. It's still difficult for me to wrap my brain around the fact he chose to "protect" his persona rather than stop the physical and emotional carnage that was taking place in his own locker room.
Throughout the years, Paterno spouted how his priorities centered around the development of quality young men ... that football was just a means to an end to help him achieve that goal. But actions speak so much louder than words, and when it came time to act, Joe Paterno failed to do what was right. Turns out he wasn't a leader of men by any stretch. He was just a pathetic demagogue who actually believed his way was the right way ... no matter how many lives were permanently ruined as a result.
The other evening, I watched as a Penn State student and football fan was interviewed after the Freeh report became public knowledge. He was asked if the Paterno statue should remain standing. As expected, he said "yes."
To paraphrase: "All the good Joe Paterno did for Penn State University over the past half century-plus cannot be erased by this one incident. He was a great man, and the statue should remain where it is for all time."
Again, are you kidding me? We're not talking about a coach who helps a kid cheat on a history test, or comes up with a down payment so a future All-American can purchase a vehicle, we're talking about a person in a position of power who had the chance to stop a serial rapist of adolescent boys but chose to treat it as if Sandusky had committed a traffic violation. No biggie, right? Just don't talk about it to anyone, and it will all go away.
I always thought Joe Paterno was a level or two above the other egomaniacs who surround big-time college football. Turns out I was wrong.