We’ll Miss You Joe…

As journalist, I was trained in college to work with facts and leave my own personal feelings out when writing about sports, aside from writing columns of course. There isn’t room for opinion when writing news stories and we are taught to gather information and present it with as little personal bias as possible. I suppose right now I’m fortunate that I don’t cover Penn State football for a newspaper, because I now realize that it’s difficult for me to draw a line between my head and my heart – what I know Joe should have done and my overall respect and admiration for him.

A few days ago, I was 99 percent sure that Paterno would be fired or would resign in the very near future. I understood all the facts that had been presented in this case and I felt like I had come to terms with the future of Joe Pa. I read the grand jury report, constantly checked for updates regarding the case and delved into the situation with a previous blog analysis. I knew that Joe messed up. I knew that he was as good as gone. But still, I was surprisingly unprepared to hear about his firing. It was like knowing a tidal wave was coming days before it reached land and still being surprised when I saw water rushing up the streets.

To me and many other Penn State alumni and supporters, Joe Paterno was like the sky above us and the air we breathed. No matter what happened, he was always there. By the time I was born, Joe had already been the head coach at Penn State for 21 years.  He had already won two national championships and a Big Ten title, with two more Big Ten titles coming in 2005 and 2008. In my life time, Joe Paterno coached in 303 games, amassing 210 wins. I certainly don’t remember all of them, but I remember some of the important ones. I was at the 2005 Orange Bowl when Joe earned his 21st bowl win, topping his longtime rival Bobby Bowden. I was in the crowd at Beaver stadium when Joe’s Nittany Lions rallied from an 18-point deficit to beat Ohio State, earning him his 324th win and passing Bear Bryant for the record of most wins for a coach in major college football history. I remember standing amongst 100,000-plus people on November 6, 2010 in State College when Paterno recorded his 400th career victory with a 35–21 victory over Northwestern. Facing a 21–0 deficit, the Lions scored 35 unanswered points, tying Paterno’s largest comeback victory as a coach. I was also present when Paterno earned win 400, a number that had never been reached in major college football history.But more importantly, I remember how I felt every Saturday in State College watching Joe lead his team out of the tunnel. I got chills each and every time. Going to Penn State games was, is and always will be one of my favorite activities in my life. Unfortunately, it may never feel the same without ol’ Joe.

Joe also impacted me off the football field. I studied every week at the Paterno library, to which Joe had donated millions of dollars to improve. The fact that it is called the “Paterno library” tells a lot about the man. Penn State is the only university in the country to have a football stadium named after a school president and a library named after the football coach. Paterno showed everyone how much he valued the educational part of college, ahead of what happened on his football field. And despite his success (Joe earned more than 10 different awards in major college football, amassed 409 wins and 24 bowl wins, and coached more than 350 players who went on to play in the NFL) he couldn’t have been more humble. He would rarely take credit for wins, rather giving the esteem to his players and fellow coaches. He never argued over his contracts, despite making tremendously less than most other major college football coaches. And when his salary became public knowledge in 2006, Paterno said that “I got all the money I need,” even though he probably could have been making a lot more.

Back when I was in undergrad at Penn State, I used to walk by his house on occasion. Before someone told me it was his house, I would have NEVER guessed that the most significant icon in college football lived there. It’s small and modest at the end of a one-way street in a quiet neighborhood just off campus. Joe didn’t want anything more than that. He was content living in the quaint house with his wife Sue, and though will have some rough days ahead, I imagine he’ll be happy to keep on living in that house in a town that has always loved him.

Although we’ll never see Paterno on the sidelines at Beaver stadium again, his bronze statue will remain outside of it with the inscription “Joseph Vincent Paterno: Educator, coach and humanitarian.” What he has done for me, Penn State and college athletics will go on unmatched in history. And when I hear “Penn State,” I’ll always think of black Nike shoes, rolled up khaki pants and coke bottle glasses.

Say It Ain’t So Joe…

It’s “College Football Live” on ESPN. Chris Fowler is interviewing Kirk Herbstreit about Joe Paterno. Herbstreit is dressed in all black. The background behind him is a dimly lit room and a mantle with picture frames and football helmets covering it. The talk is about “what now for Penn State?” Matt Millen, a former player at Penn State, has been commenting virtually all day. He’s visibly upset. And Tom Rinaldi is live at Paternoville at Beaver Stadium, reporting reactions from students. There’s no other way to describe it, at first glance, ESPN is covering the death of Joe Paterno.

No, Joe Paterno has not actually passed away, but his football coaching legacy is on its death bed. As I’m writing this, I’m distraught. I don’t think I’ve ever been so down because of anything in sports short of an actual death. I was hoping to hear something about the strange concept that is the BCS, but instead “College Football Live” is “Live: Penn State Scandal.” Fowler just said that they won’t even report on any of the football games approaching this weekend. This show is exclusively about Joe Paterno. Right now, I’m positive Paterno will either step down as head coach of Penn State or he will be terminated by the university, most likely sometime this week. The graphic on the screen says “Report: Penn State said to be preparing for Joe Paterno’s exit.” There are not any substantiated facts about Joe’s future quite yet, but I’m afraid there’s no hope for him. His weekly news conference was cancelled today, so it appears Joe is taking the 5th. I know that isn’t a positive determination of guilt, but in the public’s eyes (and in mine), Joe’s not talking because he failed to talk when he should have.

You see, Joe covered himself LEGALLY. He reported the alleged incident to his superior, Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley. If he had failed to say anything to anyone, he would have already been fired. But ultimately, what he did (or didn’t) do probably added a few days at the most to his tenure. What will bring him down is the fact that he testified under oath to a grand jury that Mike McQueary told him Sandusky was in the showers with a child and he was “fondling or doing something of a sexual nature.” It’s pretty clear that Joe knew Sandusky was committing a crime. Those exact words “fondling or doing something of a sexual nature” make it clear that Joe knew. If that somehow isn’t a crime, then it is at least a good enough reason for Penn State to give him the boot.

Paterno is losing tons of support as I’m typing this, at least that’s what is on the “bottom line” on ESPN. I’m confident that if I continue watching for the next few hours, there will be new updates almost constantly. The Lions are at practice right now, as is Joe. As soon as it ends, the media will cover him leaving and going home. I think these might be some of the the last images of Joe leaving a football field.

I could be wrong and I’m almost hoping I’m wrong. As an alumnus, I take a lot of pride in my school and the football team that I devoted countless weekends to over the years. Paterno is obviously a legend and the biggest icon associated with Penn State (that’s why I chose to put a picture of him at the top of my website.) We cling to our icons, because they are who we wish we could be, to some extent. Joe Pa was also the icon of “success with honor.” That’s something that I strive to be. I want to do things well while doing them the right way. That was always Paterno. School always came first and Joe’s players’ graduation rates were always very high. Joe found ways to motivate his kids for decades and that usually meant success on the football field, as well as success in the classroom. That is why I’m sad. These concepts and icons that I used to cling to now are tainted, all because Joe did too little.

I’d like to hope I would have done more if I would have been in Joe’s spot. I’d like to think that I would have reported the event to the police as soon as Mcqueary told me about what he saw Sandusky doing. But the truth is, I don’t know. The only way to know how a person would react in a situation is to actually present them with that situation. Unfortunately, Joe was presented with that situation and he screwed up. Sandusky was a man that Joe knew for decades and they both helped each other win a pair of national championships. They seemingly had a very tight professional relationship that Joe might even describe as a friendship. (I think it’s unlikely that they weren’t friends.) Given those assumptions, Joe may have been tremendously conflicted about what he heard his friend was supposedly doing. What do you think you’d do if you found out your friend was doing terrible things to kids? Well, I’m sure you think you’d do the right thing too, but there’s only one way to know.

I can understand why Joe did too little, and hell, maybe I would have done the same thing. But Joe can’t un-ring that bell. I’m sure he probably wishes he had done more, but the past is the past and he cannot change it. We must learn to live with our decisions and actions, and so must Joe.

Rest in peace Joe Paterno, this is the death of your football legacy. I always knew this day would come; it’s just too bad that it had to happen in this way.

This is how I wish to remember Paterno, unfortunately it has an ironic title for someone who may have to quit.

Jerry Sandusky: We Barely Knew You

Something has finally taken my mind off of the quarterback problems that Penn State has been having this season. And unfortunately, it’s much graver in nature. By now, you’ve probably heard about the scandal at Penn State involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Allegedly, he sexually assaulted eight different young boys over a 15 year period.

There are a few things that really sicken me about this whole situation. The first is the fact that Sandusky founded the Second Mile organization in 1977. On the Second Mile’s website, it states:

“The Second Mile, founded in 1977 in State College, Pennsylvania, is a statewide non-profit organization for children who need additional support and who would benefit from positive human contact. The Second Mile plans, organizes, and offers activities and programs for children – and adults who work with them – to promote self-confidence as well as physical, academic, and personal success.”

It really makes you wonder if Sandusky had the evil intention of launching this program just so he could get closer to younger kids in the hopes of somehow sexually abusing them. We may never know his intentions for the program, but it’s clear that Sandusky should never have been allowed to be around kids in the first place. Unfortunately, hindsight is 20/20.

There were previous allegations that Sandusky had conducted sexual misconduct on children before these latest ones sprung up. In 1998, there was a police investigation in which Sandusky made admissions about inappropriate contact in the shower room with a child. In the end, nothing came out of it. And apparently, it was a close call for Sandusky that didn’t scare him away from these types of actions. Even after the 1998 event, Sandusky was still allowed on Penn State’s campus and even more mystifying, he was allowed on the football facility premises with children – alone. There were some reports that Sandusky was even in the Lasch football building working out as recently as last week. How could this happen? Penn State is a school that prides itself on success with honor. It’s one of a handful of major football schools in the nation that never had major recruiting violations and other than a few other isolated incidents involving player conduct off the field, Penn State has been golden. Penn State’s athletic director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz apparently knew about Sandusky’s actions and never did a thing about it. No one called the police. It was brushed aside, and in my opinion, covered up. Like I mentioned before, Penn State was a clean school and it seems that these two “higher ups” tried to ensure that it stayed clean, whether misconduct had occurred or not. We don’t have many answers right now, so it will take some time to find out who knew what and when.

Another reason why this case really disturbs me is because I had met Jerry Sandusky on quite a few occasions. He was friends of a family that lived in my area years ago and I was on the same little league team as a kid from this family. Jerry attended a few of these little league games, and because of his status as a Penn State football coach, we were always excited to see him there. I also had the opportunity to meet him on a few occasions while attending an annual football camp in my area. The man that ran the camp was the father of the little leaguer I played with, so it made sense that he brought Jerry in to talk to the campers about football and life. I don’t remember exactly what was said when I met Sandusky, but I do remember he came off as a very nice person. Despite his elite status as a well-known football coach, he was very down to earth and extremely personable, especially to kids. If these charges were true, we were speaking with and taking advice from a monster. The allegations concern younger children, around the ages of 10. I was about that age when I first met him at the little league games. Now, he won’t ever be allowed anywhere near a baseball diamond with kids on it. I was deceived and so were my parents. They wouldn’t have let me be around Sandusky at the time if they knew what he was capable/responsible for behind closed doors. It makes me sick just thinking about it. A few people had jokingly asked me if I was one of the little boys that “Jerry touched.” All joking aside, if circumstances were just slightly different, who knows, I very well could have been.

Again, I’ll reiterate that we don’t know for sure what happened with Jerry Sandusky. Perhaps there are some reasonable explanations for what we all think he did. Unfortunately for Sandusky, that’s a real long shot right now. If it were about just one incident, then maybe it could be resolved and Sandusky would be a free man. But if the allegations are true, then Sandusky was guilty of sexually abusing kids on many occasions. He was charged with 40 criminal counts. You can read the entire Grand Jury report here from the Washington Post. ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/sports/documents/sandusky-grand-jury-report11052011.html) That means it happened a lot. How he was able to get away with these encounters so many times is beyond me and perhaps more people knew about it, but just never came forward. For their sake and the sake of these children, I hope any witnesses or anyone with information about Sandusky comes forward.

The final reason that this shocks me is because of Sandusky’s family situation. He has six adopted children. Does this fact scare others as much as it scares me? Were those kids ever at risk? For me, it’s safe to say that this man should never have been allowed to adopt any kids, period. Again, hindsight is 20/20. It will be interesting to find out what his family has to say about these recent charges and I certainly do wonder what else will be uncovered. For now, I’ll wait to see what happens. But I anticipate the news will only get worse for Sandusky from this point forward. Justice will be served and I’m willing to bet that he will spend some time in prison. Child molesters are walking bull’s-eyes behind bars and the time he may serve in a cell will not even come close to the punishment he’ll receive from his fellow tenants.

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