Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Miseducation of Happy Valley

I don't get it. And that upsets me.

Why Nittany Lion students, riot to protest the ouster of your head coach? What does that do other than psychologically victimize the already physically victimized?

Joe Paterno has been the head coach for you the last 46 years. He's won 409 games in that time, two national championships, and tied for the most games ever coached. On the sidelines, he's greatness encapsulated in black-rimmed glasses and white socks. He's a sympathetic fella. With those giant, 60's-era NASA glasses resting on his sizable schnoz, the 84-year-old looks like the kind, elderly neighbor next door minding his business when Dennis the Menace comes roaring through.

And this menace did roar through.

There is no doubting Paterno's greatness as a coach. There's little to doubt his greatness off the field as well, donating millions back to Penn State and helping countless charities. But JoePa fumbled this one, as did everyone in the Penn State organization that knew about what former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky did. That includes the president (fired), vice president (resigned), athletic director (leave of absence -- should be fired), former graduate assistant and current wide receivers coach Mike McQueary (who emerged unscathed but should lose his job by the time I actually post this), and of course, Paterno (fired).

Here's the short: McQueary allegedly witnessed Sandusky sexually abuse (read: sodomize; read: rape) a 10-year-old boy in the showers of the football building. He reported to Paterno. Paterno reported to the AD and VP, and according to a grand jury report, campus police. State College Police were never notified about the incident. Sandusky never heard anything until this November when he was finally arrested. The alleged incidents happened in 2002, nearly a decade ago. The boy is now 20. Rumors swirled about Sandusky's behavior, and as many as 20 boys may have been sexually abused. Yes, they're allegations. Yes, he's innocent until proven guilty. But 20 is a very large number.

Penn State had to clean shop. The Board of Trustees got it right. The school could not turn a blind eye to the fact that people in position of power could have done something to stop an alleged child rapist. Rapist of children. Let those words sink, and your heart will follow. The children need protection, they got rejection. Then had to live with the consequences of having their innocence picked off like an errant pass.

Paterno said earlier in the day he would retire at the end of the season, hoping his decision would make it easier on the board so that they wouldn't have to "spend a single moment discussing [his] status." You could only wish. JoePa is grandpa to 17 kids. Imagine if anyone of them were a victim of rape or abuse. Authorities would certainly be called. Most of the children that were allegedly abused came from low socioeconomic backgrounds. They were the at-risk kids who were in need. And they emerged worse from it all.

The hundreds of students who rioted in downtown State College could not have gotten it more wrong. They overturned a news station live truck, screamed obscenities at the police, media, and the trustees. In drudging up support for Paterno, they danced on the living graves of the alleged victims. As the students hooted and hollered, I can only imagine the thoughts of the victims and their families. If there are any potential victims that have not come forward, why would they after seeing this? Think of it this way, get sexually abused, then get ostracized for it because a man was great and overseeing young men throw around an inflatable oblong ball.

The students that rioted in Penn State disappointed their generation. I am no saint. In college, and quite frankly to this day, I still do many a dumb thing. But the inability to differentiate sport and humanity is not something you can blame on youth. I understand that culture of big-time college athletics. I experienced it in Tuscaloosa and Auburn, where a man so demented on school support he poisoned nature. But as it's been said countless times, this is not a football issue, a sports issue, a college issue or even a legal issue. It's a human issue. And in a rare case for the all-time winningest coach in Division I college football history, Paterno lost; as did the student body in its callous reaction.

Happy Valley, you've never been sadder.