Sunday, January 29, 2012

Power, Penn State and Joe Paterno’s Legacy

This week Joe Paterno, the former Penn State iconic football coach, was laid to rest. In his 46 years as the Nittany Lions coach, he accomplished athletic goals most coaches can only dream of: National championships, the winningest record in college football, the undying devotion of current and former members of his teams. He was known for his insistence on “winning with honor” and on making sure that most of his players actually graduated. He was never cited for NCAA violations and he had a reputation for promoting good old fashioned values of hard work and integrity.

There is no question that Joe Paterno loved Penn State and that, for the most part, Penn State loved him back. What was not to love? The success of the football program put Penn State on the map. As the coach of one of the 14 or so college football programs in the US that actually make a profit, Joe Paterno, as the head coach in charge of a multi-billion dollar enterprise, wielded incredible power in State College. It is impossible to visit this small college town in the middle of rural Pennsylvania and not feel the influence and presence of Joe Paterno everywhere. If he was not a God in State College, he was a king. It is fair to say that nothing of consequence, certainly nothing that might affect the football program, happened without the stamp of approval from “JoePa,” as he was called by many students in State College.

Gordon Spanier was president of the university, but Joe Paterno was the king. He put Penn State on the map and everyone on campus, regardless of their institutional power or position, deferred to him. A few years ago, Paterno was encouraged to step aside by Spanier and members of the Board of Trustees. “Encouraged” is the operative word here because, it was out of the question that anyone but Joe Paterno would make the decision about when it was time to go. When the meeting was over, Joe Paterno was still the coach and the administrators to whom he, in theory, reported, were sent packing back to their little offices somewhere not in the football kingdom over which he ruled absolutely.

Paterno once referred to himself as a “benevolent dictator.” He knew his power and he protected and used it as he saw fit. He saw fit to use his power to protect Rene Portland, the former women’s basketball coach at Penn State. Portland’s “no drugs, no alcohol, no lesbians” team policy was a well-known “secret” among many coaches and fans. As described in “Training Rules,” the excellent documentary on this sad 25 year period of prejudice and discrimination, Portland had free rein to destroy the dreams of any player she perceived to be a lesbian. The same cast of administrators who failed to act when told of the allegations of child rape against former football coach, Jerry Sandusky, also failed to take action against Portland. Because she had Joe Paterno’s protection, Penn State defended and protected her.

According to this interview with former VP in charge of judicial appeals at Penn State, Vicky Triponey, she resigned in part because of Paterno’s interference with university process and procedures when football players were charged with serious violations of the student conduct code. Paterno had no qualms about inserting his power into these proceedings to demand, apparently at the top of his lungs as he saw fit, that football players receive special treatment. He did not want the university disciplining his players. Triponey acknowledges that her decisions about disciplining football players were overruled on more than one occasion by university administrations who bowed to Paterno’s pressure.

Somewhere along the line, Joe Paterno’s stature in State College entered in to the mythical realm. He was treated as a living legend. Somewhere along the line protecting Penn State football and Joe Paterno’s legacy became more important than acting on information that threatened that public legacy of “winning with honor” and his vaunted reputation of integrity. Somewhere along the line, Joe Paterno, the king of State College, lost his moral compass. Ask the women’s basketball players whose careers Rene Portland ruined. Ask VP Vicky Triponey who absorbed the wrath of Paterno’s power over her enforcement of the student conduct code with football players. Ask the victims of the Jerry Sandusky scandal who must listen every day to the defenders of Joe Paterno who have made a child sex abuse scandal all about Joe and HIS mistreatment at the hands of the Board of Trustees who fired him.

It is difficult to reconcile the Joe Paterno who was king of Penn State with the Joe Paterno who claimed he didn’t know what to do when he learned in 2002 about the allegations against Jerry Sandusky. Joe Paterno always knew what to do. Joe Paterno never was reluctant to use his power to get what he wanted. When it came down to it, Joe Paterno acted as he always did: He acted to protect his own and Penn State football’s public image and legacy. He did what was legally required of him, but no more. He reported it to his “superiors” and then forgot about it. It was out of his hands.

This time, however, the enormity of the allegations against Sandusky and the lack of response to these allegations by Paterno and all the administrators involved, brings to light the hypocrisy of Penn State football’s claim of “winning with integrity.” The truth is if Joe Paterno had used his power, as he had in so many other situations, to insist on a serious investigation of the allegations against Sandusky at the time when he first learned of them, it would have happened. Period. If Joe Paterno had used his power as boldly as he always had, other young men might have been spared becoming victims.

If ever there was a message about the dangers of ceding power to college football or basketball coaches because of their winning records and ability to bring in the bucks to a university, this is it. If ever a scandal exposed the myth of integrity and honor in big time college sports, this is it. In this, the defining moment of his career, Joe Paterno was no hero and he did not win with honor.

4 comments:

Wyman Stewart said...

One could write volumes from praise of Joe Paterno to condemnation of Joe Paterno. In fact, that is being done.

To me, you hit the key point at the end: "If ever there was a message about the dangers of ceding power to college football or basketball coaches because of their winning records and ability to bring in the bucks to a university, this is it."

Too often today, because of donors, boosters and even Presidents' desire to have a winner, University Administrations have ceded the power, which can only be vested in the President and the University Administration. This fact is NOT Joe Paterno's or any coaches fault. Joe Paterno filled a vacuum, even if his success forced it into existance.

Joe Paterno could have been fired or forced into retirement at any time, but what was lacking was the guts and a "buck stops here" attitude, of the leadership. If, when Paterno refused to retire, the President of Penn State had fired him, even at the risk of losing his own job, what would we say about that man today? A man with principles; a man with morals; a man with ethics?

From a distance, I viewed the painful end of Adolph Rupp at the University of Kentucky, as well as, the painful end of Bobby Bowden at Florida State University. I have little doubt Joe Paterno, like the two coaches mentioned above, had serious personal blindspots, not typical of his known character, including how Paterno perceived himself. Maybe that is why his one haunting statement that went unexplained was, "I should have done more." (Not sure that quote is exact, but is close.)

Even in the Gay Movement you have blindspots, and like Penn State, given ever increasing success and power, corruption will enter in and you will have your scandals, even if unthinkable to you today.

Overall, I like the thrust of this post. You take on some of the reasons why I have been distancing myself from sports, as a fan, since at least the mid-1990s. I made the decision to do so, even earlier. I believe scandals, AS BAD or WORSE, are yet to come.

Every coach who is paid more than his school's President today, is corruption waiting to happen, if it hasn't already. Title IX corrupts sports, the Gay Agenda corrupts sports, and I could go on and on. A lot of this isn't going away, because we live in a constant disruptive, changing society. That means leaders have to have moral and ethical principles, while fans and the public must demand both.

I never followed Penn State, other than to note them. I never figured Joe Paterno was a saint, as a coach. As with the last years of Dean Smith at North Carolina, I was curious as to how they covered up their corruption so well. Whether we're winning one for the Gipper or winning one for Pat Griffin, we must guard against whether we have chosen the wrong reasons for doing what we do.

Your post is on the right road, Pat. However, it's the Administration, the leadership at the top, which must not be corrupt.

Anonymous said...

It comes as little surprise that Ms. Griffin is poor mouthing Paterno less than a week after his funeral. Class Act.

I think Wyman got it pretty much right in his comments. Paterno reported the problems to the administrators, who didn't deal with it. Claiming that they were powerless is a total cop out. They didn't have the strength of character to deal with it. Didn't have a problem with cashing their paychecks for those big administrator level salaries but couldn't perform when it really mattered.

It has been interesting to me throughout this drama to observe the reaction of the LGBT crew to the homosexual child molester, Jerry Sandusky. Maybe I should say their total lack of reaction to that creep, in particular his obvious homosexual tastes. Turns out maybe there are some queer men involved in college athletics after all. Normally the LGBT Crew would be trumpeting this revelation from the highest mountain, but for some reason they've been silent on it. This could have total been an "I told you so" moment for their movement. Maybe that's a bit too much truth for them.

Whatever works.

per head service said...

It is a pity that he won't be with us any more. He was a remarkable person and most of the people should learn from him.

jimmy wilson said...

Exceptional submit I adore the article; adore the way you explained all things, your are performing an excellent task most of people as if you by means of that will style of informative websites supply consciousness for you to all of us related to many points. I read other sorts of exciting weblogs from the internet websites as well as I'm a great deal fascinated along with your writing a blog skills, We in addition started to produce write-up and this type debate truly assist me personally available. My partner and i previously saved your own page along with contributed your own internet websites for you to the acquaintances not simply me personally nevertheless these people including ones running a blog knowledge, desire a person create more interesting information sites such as this one particular and also good luck for your foreseeable future sites.

Jimmy Wilson-Mass Effect 3 Leather Jacket for Sale