As I’m sure you all know, the NCAA reached an agreement with Penn State University to restore the wins that were vacated for the Penn State football team and the late head coach Joe Paterno. In addition, Penn State will be allowed to spend that $60 million fine in-state on “activities and programs for the prevention of child sexual abuse and the treatment of victims of child sexual abuse.”
As far as the history books are concerned, this turn of events reinstates Paterno as major college football’s all-time winningest coach at 409 victories. That’s wonderful news for the Paterno family and all the zealots out there. It also lends credence to the repeated arguments from both Penn State supporters and Penn State haters that the NCAA far overstepped its bounds and acted impulsively and improperly when handing out punishments it may or may not have even had jurisdiction over. Seeing as all the sanctions minus the fine have officially been overturned, it’s been proved that the NCAA handled things inappropriately.
But in all honesty, for most people, this news doesn’t mean a damn thing.
For the people who view Paterno as an enabler and false prophet, this decision doesn’t erase the crimes of omission the late head coach committed, and it shouldn’t. Joe Paterno did not do enough in the entire scandal, and he even seemed to admit as much before his passing. He should not be let off the hook for allowing a criminal to hang around his program after being given disturbing news, and he most assuredly should have been on top of seeing that the horrible actions that were conveyed to him by Mike McQueary were followed up on. He didn’t, and we shouldn’t forget that.
For the people who view Paterno and Penn State as pristine and the molder of men, a coach just as dedicated to classwork as field work, they believed Paterno was the all-time winningest coach the whole time, NCAA be damned.
As an alumnus who grew up idolizing Paterno — being half Italian and raised Catholic certainly didn’t hurt in that regard — I still view the end of his tenure as tragic and disappointing, while respecting the legacy he had built before the fall. I still think Paterno deserved to be dismissed, and I still believe he should have done more and deserved all the criticism in the world for not. He was the man who built the “Success With Honor” edict, which meant even until the end that he was beholden to live that creed. He didn’t in this situation, which makes him hypocritical at worst and naive at best. Either way, if he was too old to understand the seriousness of the situation, he was most definitely too old to be the head football coach and face of a university.
Yet, I also still believe that deep down, Paterno wanted to do and mostly did good. That doesn’t excuse his behavior at the end, but the end also should not define an entire lifetime. It’s a tricky situation, and truthfully, while I will always admire a lot of what Joe Paterno did and stood for, I lost a lot of respect and admiration for him because of all this, respect and admiration that will never be restored.
Frankly, none of that matters either. What matters is, now, finally, perhaps we as a university can move on. I say we because I am a member of the alumni association, and I love Penn State as much as I love anything else in this world outside of my family and friends. I was raised on Penn State and attended Penn State University Campus for four years, graduated from there. And I was raised on Penn State University, not just Penn State Football. That means I care about the university, and now, I hope the leadership will care about the school as a whole, not just the legacy of its most famous employee.
Truth be told, the board of trustees at my alma mater and the agenda some of its members had to restore Paterno’s wins and his name always bothered me. Who were they doing this for? A deceased man who couldn’t care less? It was not the job of the university to clear Joe Paterno’s name. That cause, if anyone wanted to take it up, was the duty of the Paterno family, not Penn State. Penn State’s board of trustees were and are supposed to look out for the university and for the current and future students. That’s board members’ job, not trying to defend the deceased.
This entire effort always seemed pointless to me. The university should have moved on and now hopefully can move on and look at how it can become the best Penn State it can be for the students it is tasked with educating. Along the way, the fanatics overtook the noise and made an entire university look bad, look like it had its priorities misplaced and its reasoning blinded. As a member of the Penn State family, that infuriated me. We’re not all mindless drones, taking up pitchforks and joining the mob to demand the wins and good name of Joe Paterno restored. Yet it sometimes felt that way, driven often by the board of trustees.
Well, in the end, they got what they wanted. The wins have been restored, and Joe Paterno is once again at the top of the NCAA football mountain. And it doesn’t mean a damn thing.
The wins never mattered. Joe Paterno’s name never mattered. What mattered in all of this is that a terrible thing happened, and while most people all agree it was terrible and more should have been done, the focus was always on football — on wins and scholarships and bowl bans and a deceased head coach’s name.
That’s not what any of this ever should have been about. It should have been about the victims and the crime and the horrible culture of child abuse, both sexual and beyond. It should have been about making sure something like this never happens again, about starting a conversation, about making the world a better and safer place. It should have been about more than a football program and a football coach.
Yes, Joe Paterno is back as the all-time winningest coach, and Penn State gets to bring those wins back. But it doesn’t really mean a damn thing. It never did, and it never will.
Sadly, for some people, that seems to be the only thing that ever mattered. And that just proves we really haven’t learned much at all. The NCAA may have conceded defeat, but when it’s all said and done, no one has truly won.