Paterno's firing is a shock to our belief system

Penn State will recover, but probably not Paterno's legacy

Over the years, whenever one of my Penn State friends would chortle with delight when a USC or Miami or Ohio State would get slapped with NCAA sanctions, I would respond with, "Penn State isn't any cleaner than anybody else … they just cover up their problems better."

That response was never met with much agreement.

So when word of a Penn State scandal broke last weekend, there was initially a temptation to stick an "I told you so" in the face of those who always relished the woes of others who ran afoul of the almighty NCAA.

Yet, as this entire thing has played out in recent days, I've found absolutely no satisfaction in having been proven right. Instead, there's only sadness.

In a society that has lost all trust, belief and faith in so many institutions, Penn State football was one last bastion of integrity that at least college football fans thought they could hang their hat on.

While never being someone who sipped the Peachy Paterno-flavored Kool Aid, I guess I bought into it, too, believing that at least all efforts were being made to do things the right way in State College, even while knowing no school or program was totally immune to troubles in this egocentric world.

Yet, I never could have imagined this.

If you were to list 100 different ways football coach Joe Paterno's career was going to end, you never would have listed a scandal of this ugliness forcing him out the door.

It's no wonder people can't believe what they are seeing and hearing. The pain and hurt of Penn State alumni and fans is palpable, even here in the Lehigh Valley.

It's like one graduate told me: "We believed in the 'We Are …' chant. We believed Penn State stood for something special. Now it doesn't anymore."

That same graduate was tearing up as he spoke because reality has set in that "We Are … never going to be the same."

For Penn Staters, Paterno getting fired in this stunning scandal is an absolute heartbreaker. It's like a pre-schooler who finds out Santa Claus doesn't exist. It's like pulling the curtain on the Wizard of Oz or finding out that Disney World is being run by the mafia.

Forget Jerry Sandusky.

In this business we have to couch everything by saying "alleged," but that grand jury report was so detailed, so thorough, so damning that not even O.J. Simpson's jury would let him off the hook.

Who knows how many young lives he has ruined and now he has at least ruined the last part of the life of an 84-year-old legendary coach who had given his life to a university and so much to so many.

You can't help but wonder how Paterno will spend the rest of his days, or just how many he has left since this scandal will likely damage his health every bit as much it has damaged his image..

Instead of the glorious memories he should have taken into retirement with him, he will only take the haunting, gnawing, everlasting emptiness of wondering how in the hell this all happened and why he didn't do more.

And you would hope that besides Sandusky, who is probably too sick to realize the damage he has inflicted, that others will take a look at themselves and realize how culpable they are here.

You can find fault with the actions of everyone from then-grad assistant Mike McQueary right up to President Graham Spanier.





Look for this special section in your
Baltimore Sun newspaper on Dec. 29, 2013.
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