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Paterno: Wait (Some More) And See...

By Brian P. Dunleavy
July 17, 2012

No one wants to see children abused, sexually or otherwise—except of course for the psychopaths and severe sociopaths among us.

Which is why I am, unlike the Greek chorus of sports commentators and columnists, reserving judgment on the late Joe Paterno and his handling of the Jerry Sandusky affair at Penn State until all the facts come out.

Make no mistake: I am not defending Paterno. Frankly, in light of what we know already, it would be hard to do so. And, by his own admission, he could have and should have done more to protect Sandusky’s victims. But I have also read the Freeh Report—unlike, I think, some of the aforementioned sports talking heads—and, while its content is pretty damning, I don’t exactly see a smoking gun either.

In other words, there is no e-mail from Paterno, who was fired by Penn State in November and died in January, saying something like, “Guys we need to cover up this whole Sandusky thing to protect [fill in the blank]…”

Now, if there were record of such an e-mail, well this whole thing would be a lot easier, at least for those of us not personally affected by Sandusky’s horrible crimes. (I feel compelled, even, to still put an “alleged” there, as the case is still pending appeal.) Apparently, though, such obvious evidence isn’t necessary in the court of public opinion—or even SportsCenter. There, Freeh’s suppositions are enough to bring down a legend like Paterno, the all-time wins leader among NCAA Division 1 football coaches and proponent of the “win with honor” credo. Certainly, it makes for great copy, and huge ratings for ESPN, Fox News, CNN and the like.

This is not say that Paterno’s legend is being torn down by a media conspiracy. Clearly, he played at least a bit of a role in this himself. But what is also clear is that many of those “reporting” on the results of the internal investigation into the Sandusky matter at Penn State, which was headed by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, haven’t read the report, which was released last week, or the NCAA rule book. For one thing, many of these sports “reporters” have called for the NCAA to institute the “death penalty”—in other words, suspend the football program at Penn State—in light of Freeh’s findings.

Unfortunately, the NCAA rules regarding the death penalty are not, as currently written anyway, applicable here.

Many of these guys also reported, with a straight face no less, former Florida State University football coach Bobby Bowden’s comments on Paterno. Bowden, who headed up arguably one of the dirtiest programs in college football, suggested that Penn State should tear down the statue of Paterno outside its football stadium.

And maybe it should. But what’s the hurry?

As a long-time Penn State football fan, and a former part-time student at the university, I know what Paterno meant to that school—and I say this as a guy who was never a big fan of his to begin with. I always saw the coach as arrogant (though, when I interviewed him once, in the late 1990s, he was very gracious and accommodating), and I didn’t particularly like his politics. Frankly, the fact I knew his politics bothered me.

But what took 50 years to build should not be taken down—at least not entirely—in just a few months, at least until all the facts come out. Remember, we still have at least two criminal cases—those of two other former Penn State administrators—yet to be resolved.

Regardless of what happens in court, of course, Paterno is not the victim here. He made millions as the football coach at Penn State, and his estate deserves to lose at least some of them for not doing more to stop Sandusky and what happened to those kids.

But for the moment, let’s remember that Sandusky is the only criminal here. Although that is subject to change.

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About the author: Brian P. Dunleavy is a writer who lives in New York.

Email: bpdunleavy@yahoo.com



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