Sports

Keidel: Statues And Limitations

This statue once stood, but was torn down. Now, a group of supporters wants to put up a new statue of Joe Paterno near the Penn State campus. (credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images)

This statue once stood, but was torn down. Now, a group of supporters wants to put up a new statue of Joe Paterno near the Penn State campus. (credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images)

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By Jason Keidel
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The Penn State atrocities won’t fade from memory, barroom debate, or public discourse for decades. But at some point, the world will move on, even if the raped children never get that chance. Call it the obdurate whims of the human condition. But a summary is in order, particularly regarding Joe Paterno, whose name gets buried deeper into the archives of America’s villains.

His family’s transitory and transparent “investigation” aside, we know enough about Paterno to have had enough of Paterno. The latest, of course, was the front page New York Times piece about the platinum parachute he strong-armed out of the school while the law was wrapping its tentacles around Jerry Sandusky. While Paterno feigned ignorance, he had time to backdoor the school with backroom deals.

My boss has given me total autonomy for over two years, so I have no reason to shill for WFAN, its hosts, teams, or sponsors. But a few nods are in order.

First, kudos to Kim Jones, who, despite being a Penn State alum, was alarmingly and refreshingly objective about the matter of State College v Society. Only at the end did she let her inner Nittany Lion escape, saying that the problem with the death penalty or similarly harsh sanctions was that they invariably harm people who were uninvolved, “innocents” as they’re often branded.

Frankly, I don’t care, and neither do most of you. There is collateral damage in all wars. And if any governing body punished an organization solely on the actions of a few, then the school, corporation would simply fire the offenders and move on. It can’t be that simple. Penn State must be eviscerated for this, and we can’t hide behind some misguided mantra like, “Those poor kids who just enrolled had nothing to do with it!”

So what? Let them leave, sans sanctions, to another school. Happens all the time, yet it’s only an issue when the beloved boys of Happy Valley are involved? Sorry. That flag wouldn’t fly in a tornado.

Lane Kiffin is paying for Pete Carroll’s crimes. Urban Meyer is paying for Jim Tressel’s transgressions. Anyone who has ever replaced John Calipari knows about sanctions. Kids can’t play in bowl games because their predecessors were on the take. Happens all the time, yet we’re supposed to give Penn State a mulligan because child rape and rampant concealment doesn’t give them a competitive edge?

Thousands of young men switch schools every year. Forgive us if we consider such inconvenience quite innocuous vis-à-vis the crimes against humanity not only committed by Saundusky, but his bosses, most notably the disgraced, fraudulent, and forever vilified Paterno, who not only knew of the crimes back in 1998, but was reminded by a firsthand account from Mike McQueary in 2001, held myriad tête-à-têtes with his titular bosses, and still stopped them from reporting his top lieutenant to the authorities.

Just when you think you knew enough about Paterno, the story has trap doors. Paterno wasn’t merely complicit in the crimes, he was updated instantly, constantly, and persistently moved to mute the brass when they got the itch to call the cops. If he weren’t dead, he’d wish he were, because his retirement home would have included an orange jumpsuit.

Then there’s the statue, the avatar of the atrocities, the daily, baleful bronze salute to a sick man. I’ve heard, sadly, from a host or two on my favorite radio station, that keeping the Paterno replica upright is proper, if only to remind the masses that his crimes cannot be repeated.

Sorry. Statues are built and burnished to honor people, not to horrify underclassmen who think their school has been properly schooled on prudence and jurisprudence. Let’s be clear, that statue must fall, immediately, publicly and violently.

For the university to not only allow the statue to exist but also to say they have no immediate plans to remove it speaks to the primitive, if not prehistoric sense of civility in State College. Every moment that statue stands it tells the world that not only did we allow a rapist and his boss to roam with impunity, but we also condone it. This is the message they want to send young men and women who still have Penn State on their short list of higher learning.

“It’s just a statue!” you say. “Who cares?”

Well, if it’s just a statue, then bulldoze it. Perception means a lot, particularly at Penn State. Turns out that Ms. Jones has done far more to represent the university than the nefarious quartet who covered Sandusky’s backside. Yet you won’t see any statue of her anytime soon. Nor will you see one of Sweeny Murti, another Penn State grad and a damn good man who has carved out a lovely career based at least in some part on his time at State College.

Statutes are there to punish evil; statues are there to praise heroes. How much more proof do you need to admit that Paterno was never the latter?

Where were you when you were ten? It was 1979 for me, and I wore a Franco Harris or Earl Campbell jersey somewhere near Riverside or Central Park, often the lone white boy (and the slowest, of course) on the block. Though a few maudlin moms loathed the violence, bumps, bruises, and broken bones that come with football, every parent knew we were safe.

There’s a small, ravaged army of young men who thought football was safe, too, unaware that it was the web of a wicked man. And that, after the obvious horror of the crime itself, is what so saddens me, that something so fun, friendly, and familial as football can morph into a deathtrap for young boys. That, I will never reconcile.

Some of us, no matter our age or wage still worship football. Turns out it’s better than worshipping a man, even if he has a statue.

Feel free to email me: Keidel.Jason@gmail.com

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