By Sweeny Murti
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I will be at Beaver Stadium on Saturday.
And I am glad Joe Paterno will not.
I made plans to be at this weekend’s game against Nebraska, the last home game of the season, a while back. A couple months ago my friends—my roommates at Penn State twenty years ago—thought it might be cool to see what many of us thought even at that time could be Joe Paterno’s last home game as Penn State head coach. The events of the past week have changed all of that.
The details of the Jerry Sandusky scandal are horrifying. And the actions—or more precisely the inactions—of Graham Spanier, Tim Curley, Mike McQueary and Joe Paterno are indefensible. To think that many people knew there was a man terrorizing young boys and their only reaction was seemingly to tell him to do that stuff somewhere else…well, it’s just absurdly disgusting.
We know Sandusky faces his fate through the legal system, and it’s hard to think he will do anything less than spend the rest of his life in prison. The other administrators will be up to their eyeballs in lawsuits and many outside observers will probably forget their names down the road. But Paterno is the one who will wear this disgrace in public the longest.
Paterno admitted that, in hindsight, he should have done more than he did. And he’s right. But it wasn’t a strong enough sentiment anymore. This wasn’t a simple error in judgment. As we recognize the timeline of events and the numerous chances Paterno and others had to keep more boys from being abused by Sandusky, we realize this was turning a blind eye to something that had to be stopped at all costs.
Paterno, despite all the good he has done over decades as the honorable face of college athletics, did not belong on the sidelines anymore. The distraction of having him in the building would have been too much. If Paterno was not going to step back himself, he needed to be pushed just as the Board of Trustees pushed Wednesday night. The games, sadly, are no longer a place for him to be.
For almost half a century Penn State football games have been about the coach, about Paterno. The games are now about the players, and these players did nothing to be punished. They don’t deserve to play their final games under the cloud of Paterno and this ugly scandal. The people involved in this mess should pay the price, and hopefully they all will. But the young men that suit up in the blue and white each Saturday deserve better.
I know there are people out there of the opinion that Penn State shouldn’t even play this weekend, or that they should donate their bowl game earnings, or even forgo the bowl game altogether. These are all ridiculous solutions to a problem that was not created by the players involved.
Sure this is all about money, but let me tell you why. Penn State football generates tens of millions of dollars a year for the university, funds that are used to operate the rest of the school’s athletic department. That means scholarship athletes in track, cross country, gymnastics, soccer, field hockey, and every other varsity sport rely on football to bring in money for their athletic careers and education.
Meanwhile, State College is a small town that turns into a small city on seven Saturdays a year. To local shops, restaurants, and hotels it’s like seven Black Fridays. To take away a home football Saturday and the business boost it brings, during already tough economic times, would hurt families that don’t deserve to be hurt by this.
The players themselves have futures of their own. They deserve the chance to move on, to finish what they started this year. Punish the men in the suits, the men in leadership positions that failed to lead when it counted most. But don’t punish the young men who are trying to represent themselves and their school in an honorable way. I know it might be decades before honor can be brought back to Penn State, but the kids in uniform deserve their chance to begin the healing.
But Joe Paterno should not be there, on the sidelines or in the booth. And now it is official that he will not. He did a lot of good for a lot of young men and women over the years. And that’s a fact that is lost for now, but will be remembered again at another point in time. But now it was time to walk away, and if he wasn’t going to do it on his own then forcing him was the right move.
Where does he go? That’s a great question. Paterno still lives within walking distance of the Penn State campus. It’s not like he packs his bags and drives home to some far away place. He is being exiled in a place that’s been his home since the Eisenhower administration. It’s a unique twist in a very sad case.
I will be there with my friends this weekend. For us it’s like getting together with family. We have no idea what the atmosphere will be like. We just know that it is not the same as it used to be, and it will never be the same again.
But that’s nothing compared to the lives of the real families who were affected by this tragic series of events in the first place.