Back when the news broke about the evils of the predator Jerry Sandusky and the Penn State scandal, I just lit up the whole bunch in one of my blogs. First of all I was angry at everyone involved with Penn State football because of everything that was being brought forth and how little had been done to stop a pedophile on the loose. I think that I had plenty of company all across the land.
I even mentioned that I had never really cared for Joe Paterno simply because he was making a case for his Nittany Lions to be considered for a National Championship in the late sixties when the Longhorns were on a championship tear. Ever the orangeblood loyalist back then I just thought it was ludicrous that he would even mention Penn State and their powderpuff schedule as compared to the Longhorn schedule that included Arkansas which was just a shade less than the Horns.
So when the Sandusky news broke I seized the opportunity to pile on the embattled Joe Paterno. In my narrow mind, it gave me a legitimate reason to blast the legendary coach with the hope of further tarnishing what had been a Hall of Fame type career. I embellished that story by fully exercising my first amendment rights. I slung accusations around like they were West Texas mud. And since I was protected from having to back up anything that I said because I was down here in Texas where most everyone felt the same, I laid it on thick.
Even as I was doing that though, I felt more than just a little hypocritical simply because I was passing judgment with few or none of the facts about Joe Paterno being proven guilty beyond a shadow of doubt. I also knew that no matter what I thought about this man because of my dislike for some of his remarks and his football program, it had been indeed proven over and over how much he had done for Penn State University. His community service, his dedication to academics, his high standards for his players, and his loyalty to his superiors was all well documented.
And then Penn State University did what I thought would never happen: they fired him and took away all those victories that had come during his tenure as head coach. They took down his statue and went out of their way to wash their hands of a man that embodied what everyone thought Penn State University stood for. At times it seemed cruel and even unjust to a casual observer such as me.
Sure enough it wasn’t long before Joe Paterno was gone. His battle with lung cancer was just too much especially at a time when his heart and mind had been damaged as much as his lungs. At 85 he no longer had to hear the accusations and feel the disappointment of some of his most admiring fans.
As all this was taking place I couldn’t help but wonder what was going on inside the Paterno home. It made me curios as to how well his wife was holding up along with the five kids and what their emotions might be at this most difficult time. I had heard his son Joseph Jr. speak a couple of times after the scandal broke and his dad had been fired and was completely impressed with his composure. In fact it was unbelievable given the circumstances each time that he spoke.
I continued to wonder why the family had not gone public in a tirade of accusations themselves and question the actions of the university: especially the board of regents. I just knew with the patriarch gone that those emotions just had to surface and that they would not be pleasant. I think that I almost hoped that they would just to set the record straight for their own benefit.
Most of my questions were answered last week when Coach Paterno’s wife Sue, their two daughters, Diana and Mary Kay, and son Joseph were guests of Katie Couric’s on her afternoon talk show. Their respect, their gentle nature, and their unquestioned honesty was on display for almost an hour. They all gave pretty much the same common answers and those answers flowed very eloquently without a hint of rehearsal. I was impressed beyond words.
The thing that impressed me the most was that their first comment was their concern for the children who were abused by Sandusky and how they had prayed not only for them but for their families as well. It was evident that the kids were their number one concern.
They all said that even in the days following his firing that Joe Paterno had even commented that if that was what it took to stop the abuse then it wasn’t all bad. What a statement! Now I was really impressed and felt even more ashamed of how I had piled on after the initial breaking of the news.
All the kids and especially their mother Sue spoke with the greatest of love and admiration for Coach Paterno and how great he was as a husband and a father. They spoke little if any about his many awards and accomplishments as a coach. Their only hint of his coaching career was the kind letters and messages of support from the legion of football players who had been lucky enough to have been under his tutelage as a coach and a builder of young men with the correct standards and priorities.
I cannot remember which daughter it was that commented that when they took the statue of her father down that stood near the stadium that the family was unfazed simply because they had no doubt what a great man that he was and that he would never hurt anyone. They also remarked without an ounce of doubt that he would never have let anyone do damage to another person purposely, especially children.
None of their time was spent showing disrespect for the investigators or those who had been charged with coming up with assigning guilt in that whole mess. Instead they simply and very graciously defended the innocence of their father and husband by saying that they understood the blame game but that in Joe’s own defense it was impossible for him to know as much as was accused.
They simply reasoned that when those incidents of abuse occurred that Sandusky no longer worked for him. And they also reminded us that for most of the time that Sandusky was dealing with his project that it was highly regarded and applauded by many including those who finally dropped the axe on Joe Paterno himself.
This forever will be remembered as an unforgivable scandal but I’m not sure that all the blame will be placed in the right places. I think that most of us realize that Paterno had to be blamed to some extent because of his position and especially because of his lofty reputation. But I’m just not sure that he was as guilty as was first believed.
I think that he was more unassuming than guilty and that his willingness to dismiss too much information because of his trust in a former player and devoted assistant led him to be too dismissive of any information that he received.
I said for many years that I believed that it was way past time for him to step down from his post as the head coach. He just kept on and kept on and it had gotten to the point that he looked completely out of touch on the sidelines. And the Nittany Lions no longer commanded the respect for their superiority that they once possessed. Sure, his legacy had to be a selling point for those ever so faithful to Penn State football but for me he had outlived his usefulness as a coach.
He should have given up the reins and gone home to that sweet wife and those remarkable children and grandchildren so that the details of overseeing a complete program such as that at PSU could have been in the hands of someone with more energy and curiosity.
For me that is the greatest depth of his guilt. He simply couldn’t remember enough in his defense to discount the accusations that had been leveled against him. He was a victim of his own unwillingness to step down and it cost him because he could not prove innocence beyond a shadow of doubt.
But as a father and husband there was no doubt about his greatness!