By Justin Wulf
This isn’t how I wanted to make my TVFury debut.
I’d rather go on a 1,200-word rant about my love-hate affair with the NBA lockout, David Stern and everything that could have been done between July 1 and the mad dash both sides made in September and October. I’d rather break down the Five Stages of Grief and how they pertained to my begrudging acceptance that there won’t be a follow-up to one of the best seasons I’ve seen with my own eyes.
I’d rather talk (or write) about the passing of legendary boxer Joe Frazier and how even as an outsider I knew the guy was beyond legit. I’d rather tell you how I recently watched Fight of the Century on YouTube and got goosebumps, almost as if I was watching something out of American history, not just sports history.
I’d rather be going on about either of those topics. But I can’t.
Like most, I’m having a hard time pulling my attention away from the Penn State scandal and (what was) the wait-and-see-what-happens-to-Paterno circus that has developed. Make no mistake, I’m not downplaying this as anything short of a tragedy.
I don’t have kids. What I do have is a sister young enough to conceivably be my daughter, and a conviction that I don’t know my capabilities of restraint if anyone ever subjected her to anything similar to what Jerry Sandusky did. There’s a reason child molesters are looked down on even in the prison system. You don’t mess with kids. Period.
Fear not, Sandusky will get his punishment. As will athletic director Tim Curley and university vice president Gary Schultz. None of that necessarily means the victims will get justice. Their childhood is gone. That’s something that can’t be restored. There’s a decent chance that peace of mind will be hard to come by, too. This isn’t something that you shake off and move on from. There is irreparable damage done that will linger like scar tissue.
Penn State president Graham Spanier is out the door as of Wednesday night. For what it’s worth, wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Mike McQueary should be gone, too. McQueary’s name hasn’t come under nearly the scrutiny that the others’ have, but he’s not off the hook either. According to the Grand Jury report, McQueary was the unnamed grad assistant who witnessed Sandusky and a young boy in the shower and reported the incident to Paterno, who then sent the issue up the chain of command.
Technically, McQueary did the lawful thing. As did Paterno. What we’re not hearing is how McQueary should have reported the incident to the authorities, which is what Paterno is under fire for not doing.
Let’s turn the tables only slightly. If you witnessed something as despicable and sinister as an older man and a child (of any age or sex), how long after you reported the incident to your supervisor and noticed that no legal action had taken place would you pursue what is morally right? I understand that Paterno is a figurehead and is touted as having more power than anyone else at Penn State, but McQueary’s inactivity should speak just as loudly because you don’t have to be a legendary coach to exercise morality. The university as a whole failed.
Regardless of what Paterno knew or didn’t know, he was aware that something that should never happen was happening. He might not have known the extent, but Jay Bilas was dead-on when he said, “When you hear: 60-year old man, shower, 10-year old boy, you don’t need to know any more.”
Among the things we did know prior to Wednesday morning’s statement was that this was Paterno’s last season. There’s no way that any coach could survive something of this magnitude. This isn’t (lying about) selling memorabilia or giving improper benefits. This isn’t even on the same level as supplying prostitutes in hotels. This is unlike anything I’ve seen in my lifetime in the world of sports. There is no such thing as damage control in this situation.
Shortly after 9 p.m. Wednesday, the board of trustees fired Paterno.
Here’s a portion of what I had written prior to the firing:
As for Paterno and the remainder of the season, it’s simply a lose-lose situation. The damage is done and no amount of statements, rallies or wins is going to cover up what could eventually emerge as a university-wide cover-up.
Personally, whether Paterno is on the sidelines for the rest of the season is irrelevant to me. For years, he has strut up and down the sidelines, piling up wins and being more of a mascot than a football coach.
Whether Paterno stands on the sidelines (or sits in the coach’s box) this weekend or for the rest of the season only changes public perception. It doesn’t change what Sandusky did. It doesn’t change what Paterno did or didn’t know. It doesn’t explain university-wide inactivity.
It also doesn’t change Paterno’s legacy to the degree that some believe it will. Had he been the one indicted for molesting children, his legacy would be shot. But Paterno was indirectly involved. He saw to it.
Granted, I wrote that hours before the decision to relieve Paterno was handed down. It’s a stance I wrestled with, but still stand behind. Paterno’s presence on the sideline would have had zero impact on the progress of the investigation. Not to mention, he hasn’t truly fit the description of “coach” for some years now. At the same time, if Paterno isn’t allowed to address media and questions, how could he be a public figure for the university?
There are those who will say 1) it’s not the players’ fault, that they shouldn’t be punished for something they didn’t have a hand in; and 2) Paterno has a responsibility to those players who he recruited.
Well, 1) those young men aren’t being punished. They still get to play football; and 2) Paterno first had a responsibility to protect any child he knew was subjected to deviant behavior.
Paterno tried to dictate the terms of how the board of trustees would handle his situation. He thought he was doing the honorable thing when he issued his resignation coming at the end of the season. One train of thought could be that he was willing to step up and take the brunt of the questions, the scrutiny, the unfriendly fire sure to come from media outside of comfy Happy Valley.
Another possibility is that Paterno wanted his farewell tour. He relished in the late night rallies on campus. He wanted to be carried off the field after a season-ending (or bowl) victory in a fleeting moment of glory. Like athletes, Joe Paterno wanted to go out on his terms.
Or maybe, after 61 years, he just wanted one more chance to wake up on gameday, step onto a football field, walk the sidelines and take it all in one last time. Unfortunately, he doesn’t deserve that luxury.
As for now, Penn State is predictably doing what it is supposed to be doing: cleaning house and moving on as diligently as possible. Everything will continue to be put together piece by piece. We learned a little bit more about what is to come for the university. We won’t know the rest until Paterno is allowed to speak, which might not come until Sandusky’s trial in December.
Even after he does, though, it’ll be hard to determine what speaks louder: his testimony or a decade of silence.
About the author: Wulf grew up in Georgia, attends South Dakota State and covers sports for the Argus Leader. He also has a background in the restaurant industry and makes a mean sweet tea (or so we’ve heard).