Brian Goldman | JoePa the coach v. Joe Paterno the man
The Gold Standard | Paterno’s fumbling of the allegations eclipses JoePa’s triumphs
November 14, 2011, 12:17 am · Updated November 17, 2011, 1:34 pm·
Elizabeth Jacobs | DP
Chloe Elmer | The Daily Collegian
We are (not) Penn State.
But despite the 150 miles separating Happy Valley and Philadelphia, the incomparable football programs or the equally incomparable academic reputations, Penn and Penn State will always be inextricably tied. We may not be connected by actual similarities, but rather through a homonymous and geographic bond — one strong enough that the BBC and Maureen Dowd of The New York Times both replaced Penn State with our own Penn when reporting on the story of the week.
But we all know the week’s news coverage, despite such inaccurate reporting, was not concerned with our school but the one upstate with the Nittany Lion mascot.
This week showcased one of those rare instances where sports intersected, directly and violently, with our daily lives. And it was not just sports; it was not just our neighbors to the north; it was an institution and a coach that were supposed to be the quintessence of the positive impact that sports can instill in individuals and in a community.
That coach, JoePa, was the winningest of his kind in Division I college football. He created a brand for Penn State that reaped billions of dollars for the school. He was Penn State.
The central question surrounding the terrible controversy at Penn State focuses on JoePa. Did he have to be forced out and fired mid-week? Was he fired in the right manner?
It’s a genuine shame we’re focusing so much on him. Because, if you take a step back and remove the sympathies that one may have for the coach, the questions are rhetorical.
Of course he had to go. There is a dichotomy between sports and real life, and the two must be separated. While JoePa the coach was infallible, Joe Paterno the man failed a basic tenet of human responsibility.
Was a phone call the proper way to let him go? That entire question misses the point; it’s merely a cover for insinuating that somehow, being fired over the phone marginalizes all that JoePa has done for the school. That, in some way, being fired over a phone was disrespectful to him.
Someday, the collegiate football record books will document a coach who won more games than any other in Division I history. It will not have an asterisk denoting whether he was fired by phone, by person or by courier.
JoePa’s career garners much acclaim and respect. But Joe Paterno’s role in the recently unveiled sexual abuse allegations regarding his former assistant coach and defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, must be looked at with a different perspective and in a different realm.
The coach we knew was JoePa, whom we merely observed through the television cameras and from the stadium heights — the one who roamed the sidelines and led his team to victory more often that not.
We do not know Joe Paterno the man who sat in his office and heard a first person account of a grown man, his former assistant, allegedly sodomizing a young boy in the Penn State athletic showers. We do not know what Joe Paterno’s facial reaction was at that moment, what he said in response or what he did immediately afterward.
But we know what he did not do. The man Joe Paterno — not the coach JoePa — did not take the steps that we like to assume reasonable people would take upon hearing of child rape.
Anyone who defends Joe Paterno at this point in time is stuck in the realm of sports, where Hall of Fame statuses can clout tragic flaws and faults of real-life personas.
But when the game gets turned off and the stadium lights dimmed, what are left are the flaws and the faults in real life. Joe Paterno’s were of the most egregious and ignorant ilk.
JoePa was — perhaps still is — Penn State. But Joe Paterno was a man who became mute when the youngest and most vulnerable of his fans needed him most.
And that’s why Joe Paterno had to go.
Brian Goldman is a College senior from Queens, N.Y. His email address is email@example.com. The Gold Standard appears every Monday.