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.

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About Pete Dombrosky
Pete is a graduate of Penn State University and a life-long Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates fan. He covered men's hockey, golf, tennis, swimming and the enterprise beat as a reporter at the Daily Collegian, Penn State's award-winning, independent student-operated paper. He currently serves as the Assistant Managing Editor for Thrillist Media Group (www.thrillist.com).

2 Responses to Say It Ain’t So Joe…

  1. Cayla says:

    I totally agree with all that you have said in this post… but for one thing. Joe Paterno didn’t cancel the press conference himself, it was canceled by the university. For some time yesterday Joe’s son was trying to organize a press conference off of the campus, I don’t believe this conference ended up happening. (I know this because of his son’s twitter page)It seems like Joe is ready to answer the questions that he needs to face, but the university is not allowing it. If Joe ended up having a press conference off campus then that would be means to fire him right then and there.
    And you’re right about the death of JoePa. Remember the days where we were practically “pledging” for the Daily Collegian? During those days I spent hours with others preparing a remembrance book all focused on Joe Paterno. We would mark the pages of old Daily Collegian files and every photo with him had to be marked to go into the book. I remember turning the pages and thinking “it feels like we are preparing for his death.” It’s unfortunate now, because that book so many prepared for will probably never be printed, and if it does it will end with the sickening happenings of Sandusky and Joe’s mistakes. I can’t believe this is the way it’s ending.

  2. Pingback: Sad News In Happy Valley | Cay Digests New.York.

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