‘JoePa’ brought himself down

On Nov. 9, a group of Penn State University students staged a riot. They were reacting in protest to the firing of long-time Penn State Nittany Lions football coach Joe “JoePa” Paterno. The back story to this has gone viral, but in case you missed it, here’s the condensed version.
In 2002, Penn State Assistant Coach Mike McQueary witnessed the alleged rape of a 10-year-old boy by 58-year-old Jerry Sandusky, a former coach under Paterno. Instead of summoning police or intervening after he witnessed Sandusky in an allegedly compromising position with a boy in a shower facility, strapping 28-year-old McQueary went home and told his dad about the incident. The following day, he notified coach Paterno. Paterno, in turn, punted this disturbing information up to Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley. After this double-handoff, no further action was taken.
Details are sketchy and change by the hour, but the stench behind this apparent cover-up is worse than the Lions’ locker room after drills. Not one of these men saw fit to call the cops or alert Child Services. Nor did they even trouble themselves to learn the fate of the molested child. In fact, not one of these gridiron “heroes” did the decent thing; the proper thing; the moral thing; the right thing. They did, however, continue to win football games– a favored pursuit that crams Penn State’s coffers with millions of dollars annually.  Apparently, they were more concerned with guarding the sanctity of the organization – and their posts within it – than saving an innocent child, and potentially many others from a determined sexual predator.
Last week, Penn State honchos finally caved in to the war drums sounding for Paterno’s release. In a protectionist move, they unceremoniously canned Paterno after 46 years as their head football coach without as much as a thanks-for-the-memories handshake. That’s hardly surprising. Penn State is a business first and foremost; all the rest is simple window dressing. Anything that hurts the brand has to go–even Paterno. When a group of loyal students caught wind of this perceived injustice they went on a tear, flipping over a news van and committing other acts of vandalism. They had unwavering faith in JoePa to the bitter end. Blind faith.
A strange brain-fog sometimes engulfs sport fans. Who can forget O.J. Simpson and the infamous slow-speed car chase? During the pursuit a desperate and repentant O.J. nearly confessed to the horrendous crimes for which he would soon be charged. But even as it appeared almost certain that the “Juice” was a murderer, rabid football fans still cheered him on from overpasses as he ran from the law. From their perspective, O.J. was like a god, only swifter-footed. So what if he had a dark side. He still had that Heisman!
The JoePa scandal has triggered a similar response in some fans. Paterno, like Simpson, seems larger than life. His tenure and win record at Penn State is without peer. He is a living icon, plain and simple. But this icon, like Simpson, is in reality just a man and a flawed one at that. When presented an opportunity to become a real hero by turning over an alleged vicious child molester over to authorities, Paterno cowered.
No matter what his supporters say or do, no matter how many news vans they flip over, it’s a sad fact that they simply cannot escape. Paterno earned this fate as surely as he earned his bowl victories. Only time will tell what his legacy will be.
 — Jeff Bahr

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