Hard to watch, now, isn’t it? Nobody ever thought just the sight of those bland Penn State uniforms and that craggy guy with the Poindexter glasses on the sideline could make skin crawl.
The results of the games don’t matter. Whether it’s the University of Miami upsetting No. 1 Penn State in 1981, the reverse in the Fiesta Bowl five years later or Penn State scoring 48 unanswered points to clobber the best of Dan Marino’s Pitt teams, when those games flash across ESPN Classic or The Big Ten Network, the stomach sinks.
Just seeing a Joe Paterno-coached Penn State team is a reminder of how complicit everybody was in what went on in Happy Valley (hard to say that without sneering).
The Freeh Report on Penn State’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, an investigation headed by former FBI director Louis Freeh released Thursday, didn’t beat a dead horse. It beat a dead horse’s ass by removing doubt about Paterno’s role in his former assistant’s continued sexual abuse of children. It pointed fingers, but not just at Paterno, also at former university president Graham Spanier, senior vice president for finance and business Gary Schultz and athletic director Timothy Curley.
All abused their power. Paterno possessed the most. But who gave Paterno that much juice? He’s a football coach. He’s the director of an extracurricular activity.
But the opiate of the masses that is big-time college-affiliated sports morphed Paterno into a drug kingpin, a Nino Brown empowered by those who crave the short euphoric crack hits he and his “soldiers” provide 12 times a year (13 with a bowl game). And when he found out one of his lieutenants went a little too dark, Paterno helped keep that man and his actions in the dark. He protected his pal, his program and his power.
Hard to look at that 1986 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year issue, too. There’s Paterno on the cover, portrayed as the symbol of all that’s good and right in college-affiliated sports. SMU sat in the NCAA’s electric chair. UM strutted and sneered at opponents, tradition and college football hypocrisy. Oklahoma All-American linebacker Brian Bosworth had been suspended for the Orange Bowl. Paterno’s selection couldn’t have been clearer commentary by the usually more irreverent Sports Illustrated.
Pete Rose, 1975 Sportsman of the Year, bet on baseball. John Wooden, who shared the 1972 honor with Billie Jean King, looked the other way while boosters helped garner UCLA’s fantastic talent. They and other golden calves named Sportsman of the Year just make you shake your head. They don’t make you shake in anger.
My colleague Dan LeBatard is fond of saying none of us would like to be known by our worst moment. He’s right. Certainly, many young men left Paterno’s program better than when they entered. Many men and women, young and old, benefitted from Paterno’s support of the elements that make a university an institution of higher learning.
John Gotti and Frankie Carbo did good works, too.
The problem for Paterno’s legacy is it isn’t just one moment. The Freeh Report made clear it was a series of moments, a continued reaffirmation of a bad decision to protect a predatory friend over his targets. Paterno repeatedly enabled a serial killer of children’s souls.