July 25, 2012

Why Can't We Just Leave Joe Paterno Alone?

     A couple days ago, we learned about the NCAA's sanctions on the Penn State football program after its sex abuse scandal.  Most of it was unsurprising and fair:  loss of scholarships, a monetary fine, bowl bans, and probation.  However, there was one punishment I wasn't expecting, and that was the one I found most intruiging. 

     Every Penn State win since 1997 was erased from the record books.

     I can understand how the scandal could be construed as an unfair competitive advantage.  Sandusky should have been fired after his crimes were discovered (though I'm not sure if that's an NCAA rule or just a moral one).  Without their great defensive coordinator, Penn State's performance would have suffered, and that decline along with the reputation of having a sex offender as a former coach would have affected the school's recruiting in the future.  Is that enough of an advantage to warrant the removal of 111 wins over 14 years?  I personally don't think so, especially since Sandusky had retired after the 1999 season.

     I think the main reason the NCAA vacated those wins, though, was to make a statement against the late Joe Paterno, Penn State's ex-head coach who before the sanctions was the NCAA's all-time leader in wins.  For most of his coaching career, Paterno was hailed as one of the most upstanding and classy men in college football.  Then we found out that he failed to properly report Sandusky's crimes, and the negativity came raining down on him.  Paterno was fired from Penn State in November 2011, and died two months later.  Now his statue outside Beaver Stadium has been removed, and his career wins record has been taken away as well.

     This sudden change in attitude toward Paterno is what bothers me the most about the whole episode.  Too often people want to categorize things as being either good or bad, when it's really somewhere in between.  Joe Paterno deserves better than to be remembered as the guy who let Jerry Sandusky molests some kids.  He has been a role model for so many people over the last 5 decades, and he has proven to be one heck of a football coach.  Yes, his reaction to the Sandusky situation was less than perfect, but it's not like he assaulted the children himself.  Let him keep the wins he earned.  Keep the statue outside the stadium.  He is the most famous person in Penn State athletics history.  It's okay to remember Joe Paterno as a great coach and a great man who in one situation showed poor judgement, instead of trying to erase him from all of our memories.

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