In a world where corruption and a complete disregard of the rules, we search for a beacon of light we can gravitate towards. For more than 45 years, in the realm of college football, the man affectionately nicknamed ‘JoePa’ has been that beacon. Now, all of that has seemingly changed.
Aside from the occasional old man tirade, Joe Paterno and his Penn State Nittany Lions have spent very little time in the news when it comes to rules violations and infractions. For a portion of the 2000s, Paterno was subject to much criticism for the perceived lack of control over his team; control that seems to have been regained in the past few seasons.
However, it was recently revealed that a much larger issue was lying in wait under the surface.
On November 4th, 2011 that beacon of light JoePa represented was doused. Former Assistant Coach and once heir to the throne of the Nittany Lions, Jerry Sandusky, was indicted on 40 counts of sexual crimes against young boys. This revelation sent shockwaves through the Lions nation and has thrown the entire university administration into turmoil and uncertainty.
Most troubling to the college football community is the realization of how much, and for how long, the legendary coach knew of these events. Allegedly, Paterno has been aware of the abuses since 2002 when a graduate assistant walked in on Sandusky having a sexual encounter with a young boy the teams shower area.
Paterno, on paper, did what he legally was expected to do; he reported the event to Athletic Director, Tim Curley. According to the report, the only action the school’s administration undertook was to order Sandusky to no longer bring children to the football facilities. No reporting to authorities, nothing more was done to even remotely remedy the situation. It was the ultimate “let’s handle this in-house” situation that should have been anything but.
This is where the college football nation expected more from Joe Paterno. Just like they did when Jim Tressel was run out of Ohio State when the findings of an investigation found Tressel knowingly failed to report illegal activity of his players. Both men failed to rise with the occasion and lead their respective teams through the troubling times.
Another role model for the coaching community has fallen and who should they turn to next? Unfortunately, society has come to expect even the most creditable and morally sound coaches to have significant skeletons in their closets that are guaranteed to come to light. It is simply just a matter of time.
All hope is certainly not lost with Paterno’s fall. There are many young coaches who have a spotless record and seem to be great role models for their players and fellow coaches. Coaches like Chris Peterson of Boise State, Dabo Sweeney of Clemson and Brady Hoke of Michigan. All three men have been an exemplary illustration of how a coach should act and carry themselves, but they are young and have yet to earn the confident respect of the sport’s critics.
As a sports nation, it is now time to turn to head coaches like Les Miles of LSU to be our guiding lights. Coaches like Miles have succeeded on a national scale and spent much time in the spotlight without any holes beginning to form in their moral fabric. Hope is present but it is saddled ever so closely with the presence of expected fallibility.
Paterno was proof of the potential longevity of coaching the highest level of college football. To coach for so long and as successfully as Paterno has, it was astounding to see him prevail through today’s ever changing culture of college football.
Paterno was comfortable, familiar; like that pair of sweatpants in your drawer that you love and can never bring yourself to throw away. For many, Joe Paterno was a bridge to the past; a connection to what college football used to be. Perhaps the way it should be played and coached as well. He was the rock in the ever revolving coaching carousel.
Now, it seems, we must come to grips with the flaws of a football icon and the reality of the bad choices individuals make in tough situations. A desire for change now revolves around the NIttany Lions and this is the one situation Paterno will finally be unable to evolve; unable to adapt and maintain his position as the leader of this hallowed program.