Joe Paterno has now been gone a week, and it would be nice if we could simply honor his memory without reservation. I can’t. And frankly, it troubles me that so many want to bury Paterno’s faults along with the man.
Maybe it isn’t the time to talk about such things so close to his death, but when exactly will the right time be? Anyway, there’s the story by Sports Illustrated‘s Tim Layden in the current issue. Paterno, he writes, “sought to transform the phrase student-athlete from an increasingly belittled oxymoron to the essential truth of his program. Football success would only come hand-in-glove with academic excellence.”
Now, wait just a moment. The essential truth about any major college football coach’s program — from Knute Rockne to this day — is that athletes work their butts off and risk injury for a program that ensures the coach a comfortable lifestyle and produces heaps of revenue for the university. I know, Paterno didn’t invent that, but it’s naive to pretend that he didn’t benefit from it as much as any football coach.
Regarding Paterno’s colossal moral failure to have his former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, investigated after being told of his possible sexual abuse of young boys, Layden quoted the coach. “This is a tragedy,” Paterno said on the day he was fired. “It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”
He should have said, “This is by far the greatest sorrow of my life. I wish I had done something.”
Paterno could certainly not have asked for a more fervent apologist than SI‘s Joe Posnanski, who is working on a book on Paterno but already seems to have forgiven him of every sin. Posnanski assures us that Paterno was not bitter in his final days. “In every life,” he told Posnanski, “There has to be some shadows.”
“Oh, sure, he did not like the way the board of trustees fired him without asking any questions. He was disappointed that so many people fastened dark motives to the way he handled what he was told about Sandusky, his longtime assistant coach. ‘I made a lot of mistakes in my life,’ he said, ‘but I thought people could see that I tried my best to do the right things. I tried to do the right thing with Sandusky, too. He was hurt that the program he had spent his life building was in trouble.'”
I’m sorry, but I can’t take any more of this self-pitying crap. Fuck your program, Coach, boys were being raped in your locker room, and you did nothing about it. You didn’t “try to do the right thing” — you did nothing at all. Nothing. You didn’t call the police, you never followed up to see if there was an investigation, you did nothing. You thought of the reputation of your football program before you thought of all the ideals that you said — for so many years — are what football and coaching young people are about.
“It doesn’t matter what people think of me,” Posnanski quotes Paterno as saying. “I’ve lived my life. I just hope the truth comes out, and I hope the victims find peace.”
The truth is coming out, and those victims may find peace, but in neither case will it have anything to do with the efforts of Joe Paterno.