by Gary Levitt
It’s the oldest trick in the book. You win an argument by exaggerating and distorting the other side’s position. Here’s how it goes:
You Penn Stater’s all believed Joe Paterno was a god. You worshipped him. Saint Joe. Nothing happened in Happy Valley that he didn’t know of and approve. He ran the University.
Jerry Sandusky was a close friend and he protected him and his precious football program instead of protecting innocent children from abuse.
Tell me how you can justify supporting someone who enabled a pedophile just to win football games and was more interested in his own legacy than he was in the welfare of children entrusted to his care?
Joe Paterno, the man everyone thought was the Mother Teresa of college athletics was actually the Mr. Hyde. He was pure evil and anyone who defends him is delusional and insensitive to the suffering of Jerry Sandusky’s victims.
Since November 9, 2011 anyone who has tuned in to a sports talk show, or watched the 24-hour “news” channels, or read the comments following online articles, or discussed Penn State at the office water cooler, has heard a variation of this argument. And, inevitably the Strawman named Joe gets ripped to shreds and his defenders are left speechless or frustrated or angry.
Part of the problem has been that, from the beginning, those charged with governing Penn State have been content to let the blame fall on Coach Paterno. Instead of standing with him against the onslaught of a sensation-seeking media mob, they calculated that scapegoating Joe would deflect scrutiny from their own culpability.
A Governor who had been the Attorney General certainly didn’t want attention focussed on his casual approach to the investigation and prosecution of the founder of the Second Mile Charity which had provided so much financial support to his campaign.
The Trustees who had been too busy socializing and networking and enjoying their super box treatment at “the greatest show in college football” to notice that a crisis was coming at them like a freight train, didn’t want to be criticized as part of the “out-of-control football culture.”
The $100,000 a month consultants (and there have been several) didn’t want to jeopardize their paychecks by telling their clients anything that might upset them.
The acting Athletic Director didn’t want to hear and wouldn’t tolerate even the mention of his former coach.
Judge Louis Freeh conducted an investigation without interviewing any of the key participants, selectively leaked misleading emails, and drew conclusions unsupported by facts or evidence.
And the second-banana administrator who became a Peter-principal President has been waving a white flag from Old Main’s tower every day that he has been in office.
And so there was no one at the University speaking this simple truth:
Joe Paterno proved over 61 years of service that he was an honest, honorable man. He played by the rules, won football games, recruited quality kids, taught them well, made sure they went to class, disciplined them when necessary, and was proud of them when they graduated and went on to useful, productive lives. He helped to build Penn State into one of America’s great Universities.
Joe Paterno was not a saint. He didn’t run the University. He didn’t like Jerry Sandusky and didn’t want him on campus and he especially didn’t want young children at the athletic facilities. He had told Sandusky when he fired him, that being a football coach was a full-time job and except for time spent with his family, there really wasn’t time left for anything else. When the President of the University and the Chairman of the Board of Trustees came to talk to him after a 3-9 season, he told them his job was to coach the football team and theirs was to run the University. When a graduate student told him he had seen something inappropriate in the showers, he referred to the rule book and reported it. When he found out a decade later that Sandusky was finally being accused of much worse than bad judgement and “horseplay” he grieved for the victims and admitted that with the benefit of hindsight he wished he had done more.
The Board of Trustees has spent, at last count, $15 million trying to convince us that it is time to forget the past and move on to a brighter future. But they are finding a stubborn streak running through 600,000 Alumni and countless more Pennsylvanians who grew up believing in the man who taught and lived Success with Honor.
And now, finally, we are going to get some unvarnished truth.
Joe knew 2011 would be his last season. Age and health had finally caught up to his indomitable will. He had quietly negotiated three-year severance packages for his loyal staff and a retirement plan for himself and Sue.
And he invited Joe Posnanski, a respected Sports Illustrated writer to literally spend a year at his side with unfettered access and no preconditions. Of course, neither knew at the time, what was coming.
That book “Paterno” will be available tomorrow. I was not one of the favored few who got an advance copy. But I know the story it will tell. And I hope that everyone who has participated in the building up and tearing down of the Strawman named Joe will spend some time actually getting to know the man himself.
The real Joe Paterno wasn’t perfect (he would have been the last to claim perfection). But he was no Strawman. Let’s see if his critics can handle the truth. I know his friends can.