By now, there should be little doubt that Joe Paterno interfered with an investigation targeting his good friend and co-worker Jerry Sandusky, who was recently found guilty of child molestation. If you have been living under a rock, independent reports have now pretty much confirmed and provided evidence showing that Joe Paterno dismissed blatant evidence that Sandusky was guilty of this and corroborated with officials at the school to cover it up. Nothing new, really.
There is something very prolific about how this entire story unfolded, however. Culminating at the end of his life, Paterno faced the heavy burden of exposure for his wrong-doings and the public opinion had swayed more drastically than ever, especially in comparison to his other accusations.
Really, when people come to the defense of Paterno, it boggles my mind that sports some how serves as a valid excuse for his lack of character. As if, somehow, the game of football can exonerate criminals because of its popularity. I think it would be safe to say that I am a huge fan of sports, all sports, in general, and I still believe that no talent, physical or not, can absolve someone of wrong doing. Saying he worked at the same place for 60+ years and upheld a great tradition are certainly great quality traits, but when it boils down to it, he was really good at telling kids how to play a game. Just a game.
Does it make him any more or less guilty because of his upbringing or state of mind? It doesn’t really matter. Everyone has or had someone elder in their family that said some pretty awful things, whether it be racist or ignorant, and for the most part, we usually ignored them. We all knew that the daunting task of changing their minds or arguing with them was far greater than the small impact they had on the world around them because of their beliefs. In some ways, I feel that’s how the Penn State faculty approached Joe Paterno. I believe that Joe wasn’t really aware of the psychological trauma Sandusky was putting on these kids, and I don’t believe he weighed it that heavily, but surely he knew it was against the law. That’s really where the line should be drawn in most cases.
I guess I can say this without much conflict because I never really had admiration for Joe Paterno. At any point in his career, really. It was pretty clear at the end of his time at Penn State that he had become incompetent at his job and puppeteers were stringing him along in the public eye.
In 2008, I watched a Outside the Lines report on Penn State and their recent academic troubles. At the time, Penn State had the most football players involved in or related to a crime of any collegiate athletic program in the country. Though this was mostly swept under the rug, ESPN spent a brief millisecond interviewing Joe Paterno about these troubling facts and the questionable actions he took in some instances to “punish” or “discipline” the students. There was even hard evidence suggesting that Joe Paterno texted several players on his cell phone commanding them to beat up other players or students because of their poor play or rebellion towards the school.
During the interview, Paterno was asked about the cell phone text messages that came straight from his phone, and he was incredibly dismissive about the accusations. I remember watching this and thinking, “This man is guilty as fuck.” Just hearing him repeat, “I don’t even know how a cell phone works. No, it’s not true. No. No truth. I don’t even know what a text message is.” He sounded like a sly gangster in the 1920’s during the prohibition era.
Look, 9 times out of 10, if someone continually states that they aren’t guilty when asked a simple question, repeatedly, they are usually guilty. Look at Robert Blake’s freak-out on CNN earlier this week.
My point is, there has been a long history of Joe Paterno being accused of doing terrible things, and I really doubt it’s a coincidence. Just because the public is catching up to it now doesn’t mean that his long public perception of being this great sports icon isn’t tarnished. It is. It should have been a long time ago. You can’t give people power for that long.
Luckily, I was finally able to scrummage up that Outside the Lines report.