Despite Paterno’s actions, Penn State moves on
Published: Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
The transformation of Penn State and its football team is nearly complete.
In less than a year, one of the mightiest college football programs in the country has fallen from an untouchable position of an elite program to an example of what can happen when a program and university are plagued by gross mismanagement of priorities.
And yet the final change that marked the end of the Joe Paterno era was not a result of what the NCAA did, what the Freeh report revealed, or even Jerry Sandusky’s actions.
Although each of those things have had an effect on the university and the way it decides to move forward, the university’s priority is to put Joe Paterno securely in the past – something that fans, players, and coaches will have to do.
The NCAA struck Penn State with haste and severity, but nothing it can do will force the school to move on. While early on it appeared Penn State was trying to erase Paterno in order to avoid NCAA sanctions, that is no longer an issue; the NCAA has already handed down its ruling.
Erasing Joe Paterno’s memory is a grave mistake. He was at fault when he allowed Sandusky to continue abusing children at the expense of Penn State football, but he has done many other things of immeasurable value. Perhaps Paterno is not as great a man, as was once believed, but his influence on Penn State – and college football, as a whole – is still huge. Burying him because he made a mistake – however large a mistake – doesn’t help the situation.
Paterno should not be revered as he once was, but he should still be remembered. But instead of being remembered solely as a great coach and educator, he should also be an example of a man who was so great many thought he was untouchable; yet he turned out to be as mortal and mistake-prone as the rest of the world.
The university formed an independent investigative committee to look into Sandusky and Paterno’s scandal. The committee generated the Freeh report, which helped the NCAA determine how to thoroughly cleanse the entire school of its strong football heritage. It helped figure out how much Paterno would be remembered and how much he would be forgotten.
Penn State, in turn with the sanctions, realized Paterno could no longer be the face of the university and decided to remove his statue from its pedestal outside of Beaver Stadium.
The conclusion the administration has landed on may not be the perfect solution – universities would rather turn a blind eye to problems than face them head on – but Penn State’s actions are noble.
The statue’s removal prevents future generations of Penn State players, fans and students from holding Paterno in high esteem; his fingerprints are all over the program, and it’s difficult to remember Penn State football without Paterno.
The true daggers in Paterno’s legacy are the two minute changes in the team’s uniforms – the uniforms have remained almost completely untouched since Paterno first began coaching. They’ve been a visible marker and everlasting symbol that represents Penn State football. Changing the uniforms affirms Paterno will be remembered in a far more negative light than positive.
Although the addition of a blue ribbon supporting awareness for the victims of child abuse and the names of each player appearing on the jerseys – in “recognition of their resolve and dedication to the team and the University” – seems small and inconsequential, the true meaning is much greater.
By changing the uniforms, Penn State football is breaking a long-standing tradition and announcing its separation from the only coach worth remembering in its history.
Penn State enters its next phase of life as a cripple because of the actions of one coach. It is not up to the NCAA – or even America – to forgive Penn State for what happened at the university. It is up to the Penn State community.
The only forgiveness that matters now is the clemency from the innocent people being punished for the crimes of a handful of men. If the innocent and those wrongly punished can prove Penn State is as strong as it’s ever been, it doesn’t matter what Paterno did in life. In death, he has left a strong community that has lived through his betrayal.