Everybody that knows me is well aware that I love college football. Even though I am from the Commonwealth of Kentucky where college basketball is king and I am as happy as any other Wildcats fan that they won their eighth NCAA Men’s National Championship earlier this year, it’s really college football that I love much more. It started when I was a very young boy simply being completely enthralled by all of the colors, logos, nicknames, and places where so many games were taking place. I have never ceased to be fascinated with it.
Yes, I am well aware of the many levels of corruption involved in college sports big and small. Still, I cannot help but be compelled to watch it as the players and crowds never fail to shed all of that baggage and simply find themselves awash in the pure joy of competition and companionship.
As most everybody knows know even outside of North America, the hammer came down yesterday on Penn State, obliterating once and for all the legacy of the late head coach Joe Paterno who many felt was just about the last honest man in any sport. According to some college football writers, it might not be until at least 2020 until the Nittany Lions can even begin to try and field a competitive team again considering how many scholarships they lost in addition to the unprecedented fines they will pay over the next four years.
Before I continue, don’t get me wrong. All of this is well deserved for the completely conscious choice that Paterno and others in the Penn State administration made to protect the school’s image instead of exposing the child rapist assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky. In the grand scheme of things as well as on a day-to-day basis, it should never be forgotten that the real damage done was to the young boys that Sandusky raped both literally and mentally. Still, I feel that this also deserves to be looked at from another perspective that I believe will end up being hurtful to all of America.
Joe Paterno was probably the last of his kind. He was the coach at Penn State when I first started watching college football as a boy (and I just turned 47). Nobody ever stays at one school that long these days and probably never will again as the sport has changed so much since the late 1960s when Paterno took control of the Nittany Lions. In those early years of my football fandom, I never really liked Penn State or “JoePa” as I always saw them as the “Yankee” school that always played easy schedules to try to get to a major bowl game and sneak their way into a national championship.
However, my view started changing in the 1980s. As schools like the University of Miami rose in prominence with their “outlaw” attitude (and actions), I started to become more appreciative of what Paterno was doing at Penn State. While he did not have the most exciting teams, they did find ways to win (especially with the Sandusky-coached defense), did so with class, and all while graduating a large number of his players. Paterno’s press conferences also helped him rise in esteem in my eyes as he seemed to be the only person that could combine Brooklyn sensibilities with a more southern-style “aww shucks” attitude.
For up to three decades once everybody agreed that Paterno was an “institution,” he and Penn State could always be pointed to as the good guys that did things right. While all the others faltered at one time or another — Miami, Ohio State, Southern California, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Washington, Colorado, Alabama, even sainted Notre Dame — JoePa stood untouched in integrity. While rivals even within the Big Ten Conference might never have rooted for the Nittany Lions, they did have their respect. And…when Paterno did speak out on a serious issue, people listened. More often than not, Joe seemed most concerned about the integrity of the sport and especially the academics…something certainly never mentioned by most of his contemporaries.
Thus, in his own way, Joe Paterno became the Walter Cronkite or Johnny Carson of his world — the most trusted man in college football. Now, in the span of about a year, he is probably one of the most reviled (at least outside of Happy Valley) and would be second only to Sandusky. Seriously…right now, an Auburn fan would rather name his kid after Alabama coach Nick Saban than say something good about a man that willingly covered up for a child rapist.
Of course, we all know that humans are imperfect. We all make terrible decisions and, at one time or another, do horrible things to a certain extent. We always run the risk of being disappointed when deciding to look to somebody with admiration much less hero worship.
Still, the case of Joe Paterno concerns me due to the timing. Here in America, there doesn’t seem to be one issue political or otherwise that isn’t divisive or trying to be made devisve by various special interests. Now we are faced with a media avalanche where one of the most upstanding men in the country — successful coach, education advocate, family man, and regular church attendee — sold out young rape victims in order to protect his reputation.
It leaves a lot of people wondering who else is left to trust. It makes even more people just throw up their hands and give up. Those things fall right into the hands of the people that want us to give up and leave them in peace to run things for us, all to their benefit. You know…The Man.
Even though I’m no lover of Ronald Reagan, he said some very wise things. One of them was in regard to the power held by the old Soviet Union as he negotiated for reductions in nuclear weapons — trust but verify.
We should never give up trusting people as that is the only way we can have a functioning and, most importantly, free society. However, for those that are given power whether it be a politician, a corporate executive, a top media pundit, or a college football coach, we the people need to demand checks and balances on their power so there is less temptation for them to fall into the terrible mess that has befallen Penn State and the Paterno legacy…or that allowed our major banks to fleece the entire nation…or a President to get away with lies whether they be about healthcare or a war that didn’t need to be fought or a blowjob.
The only problem in this case is that I only see the USA becoming more cynical. If 9/11 couldn’t bring everybody to their senses to start talking more reasonably about how to deal with the country’s problems, I have to wonder what it will take. It certainly won’t be Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky as the discussion is already turning to who will get the Nittany Lions’ freed players and how that will affect the various conference races. It certainly won’t be what just happened in Aurora, Colorado as the look of the alleged perpetrator has already made him a farce and more of a curiosity than being seen as a reason to reconsider gun and mental health issues. It certainly won’t be global climate change even though we’re in yet another big drought and haven’t had a below-average temperature year since 1976. And, it certainly won’t be this year’s presidential race where I have yet to hear one single serious, solid policy out of either candidate.
So…how big of an incident will it have to be before we remember that checks and balances along with respect for reg’lar folks will be the only way we can every regain trust of our American institutions? An 8.7 earthquake on the New Madrid Fault in Missouri that flattens Saint Louis and Memphis while causing damage throughout the eastern two-thirds of the country and bankrupts every single American insurance company? An extended drought that make the price of hamburger go up to $9.98 a pound? A bigger 9/11, maybe this time with a nuke?
Whatever it will finally take to get people to truly stand up to power on both sides that is only interested in its self-preservation, just remember…in the meantime, The Man is laughing at you as you do nothing but worry about any number of issues he has put out there for us to fight over and remain distracted because, unlike Jerry Sandusky, The Man is fucking everybody up the ass.