Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Witch Hunt & A Broken Heart

November revealed some jarring news: a sex scandal involving former Penn State assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky riveted the university, the State College community, the sports world and Penn State alumni everywhere. Not only was the news of the scandal horrifying, but soon after the story broke, the media launched a crusade against Penn State's iconic coach, Joe Paterno. 

On the opposite side of the country, I was helplessly glued to news stories, reports and interviews, and my jaw dropped as the allegations against Paterno mounted. I cried listening to "experts" rally against Paterno for his "latent" response to the situation and my heart broke when I watched the board of trustees shamelessly announce his dismissal. To everyone around me, I fiercely defended him, even igniting debates on my Facebook wall.

To anyone outside of the Penn State community, crying over Joe Paterno's dismissal could seem dramatic. However, this is a man who donated millions to the university, was a community leader, a living legend and one of the few remaining big-time football coaches that still emphasized values and education to his players. 

"’They asked me what I’d like written about me when I’m gone. 
I hope they write I made Penn State a better place, 
not that I was a good football coach." - Joe Paterno

As soon as the story broke, the media clenched their teeth into the juiciest angle possible: a celebrity coach, a legend, a man who has built his football empire on the motto "Success with Honor," played a sliver in the grapevine of reporting the allegations. But this mere sub-link was enough to crucify him and to boost those ratings. Sudden Paterno, a man always revered for his good, was suddenly portrayed as villainous - all to make the story richer. The media stripped him of his glory, his honor, his dignity. So heavy was the media focus on Paterno that I even had friends and co-workers ask me what I thought about "the Paterno sex scandal." Everyone could have done more, but such wisdom is truly the "benefit of hindsight."

"This is a tragedy," Paterno said. "It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."

After over 60 years of service, the board of trustees callously dismissed him based on the volume of negative media attention alone. And just months later, Paterno passed away. Though he battled cancer in those final months, I believe that the once spry 85-year-old died of a broken heart. 

Only in the wake of his death did media change tune. Suddenly Paterno was immortalized as the great man he truly is - a far cry from the scathing commentary published just months earlier. 

Rumors have always circulated that Beaver Stadium's field would one day be name Joe Paterno field. After all he endured at the end of his life, I hope the university will bestow him that honor.

I leave you with this: a fantastic Huffington Post article, "The Final Judgement of Joe Paterno," published earlier this week. 

Joe, you did make Penn State a better place, and I am so honored to have been a student during your tenure. 

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