Sunday, November 13, 2011

Trying to understand Penn State

Like I suspect many of you, an understanding of Penn State is eluding me even though I’m a life long pessimist.  The ongoing scandal has resulted in the firing of coach Joe Paterno, the athletic director, the President of the college and leave of absences for others.  The football program will almost certainly take a major perhaps crippling hit, and law suits against the university are certain to follow.

First by way of context, let me say that while I consider myself a sports fan I am in no way a rabid fan.  Second, the general cult status of successful coaches has for a very long time struck me as ridiculous.  The adoration for Joe Paterno is, to put mildly, over the top [only Bud Grant deserves that kind of reverence]

That said, what I find missing in the attempts to understand why no one did anything [here for instance] is any reflection on what would’ve happened if people had acted correctly.  I certainly don’t intend for this to in any way excuse the actions of those involved, but I think we are missing something crucial if we think the ramifications on Penn State and its officials is the result merely of their not acting appropriately here.

First, somewhat aside from my point here, I’m at a complete loss as to the conduct of the graduate assistant.  On hearing a rough outline of events I thought of giving him a sliver of pass for being young, but have since found out he was 28 at the time.  At that age I was seeking out arguments with the higher ups and ruining my career.  Moreover, he was a football player himself, so physically handling Sandusky without assistance should’ve been no problem for him.  One extenuating circumstance is that as a football player he probably hadn’t developed an adequate network of people he could contact and run things by who would provide him with sound advice. 

But to my main point here, I would contend that if Paterno and the AD had gone to the authorities as they should have the results would most likely have been:

a)      A major scandal, particularly as the earlier incident with Sandusky came out with program being severely damaged.
b)      Paterno wouldn’t have been fired, but he would’ve been asked to retire at the end of the year.  He was after all in his mid-70s.  The incident in the shower involving a former assistant coach would’ve shown that he was no longer up to his duties.
c)      Penn State would’ve been subject to one or more lawsuits
d)      The football program would’ve been severely damaged, it’s reputation for propriety shattered.

Again, I don’t think there is any excuse here for not turning Sandusky in immediately.  But I think we are missing something crucial here if we don’t realistically consider what the results would’ve been from doing the right thing.

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