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Penn State lost its soul
by Jake Highton
Jul 21, 2012 | 1893 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Newspaper letter writers sometimes show more wisdom than sports columnists and pundits.

For example: a letter writer to the San Francisco Chronicle recently wrote, “Given the damning report by former FBI director Louis Freeh concluding that coach Joe Paterno and top officials at Penn State covered up child sexual abuse by assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, the Paterno statue outside the football stadium should be pulled down and tossed in the dump.”

Furthermore, Penn State should strip Paterno’s name from the university library and stop selling Peachy Paterno ice cream at the university creamery.

As for the NCAA, it must pronounce the “death penalty,” banning all Penn State football games this fall.

Only such severity will show Penn State and the nation that humane behavior is far more important than football games, even ones that draw 106,000 spectators to home games as Penn State does.

It is doubtful, however, that the NCAA will have the courage to crack down on such heinous criminality.

The NCAA easily sanctioned the tiny, virtually unheard of Caltech of Pasadena for a frivolous and technical violation (course shopping). It’s quite another matter to sanction a football powerhouse like Penn State.

Caltech is merely one of the world’s great engineering schools. Its students are first, last and always students. Athletics are an afterthought, as they should be. The school, which has lost 227 baseball games in a row, has fewer than 1,000 undergrads.

In contrast, Penn State has 45,000 students. Its football prowess is renowned. Paterno teams in his 46 years as head coach won 409 games (a Division I record), captured two national championships, had five undefeated seasons and appeared in 37 bowl games.

NCAA president Mark Emmert said he had “never seen anything as egregious” as the pedophilia scandal at Penn State.

It may be the worst scandal ever to hit college athletics. Hence, punishment must fit the crime.

New York Times columnist Joe Nocera pointed out: “No university should ever be beholden to its football team as Penn State was. A great university sold its soul to its football team.”

Tim Dahlberg, Associated Press sports columnist, is rightly adamant: Anything less than the suspension of the Penn State football schedule will strip the NCAA “of the last bit of credibility it has as the watchdog of college football.”

The 267-page Freeh report said that Paterno intervened to stop a plan by his theoretical superiors, the university president and the athletic director, to reveal the horrible truth.

“Paterno and the authorities repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse,” Freeh reported. “They did so to avoid the consequences of bad publicity.”

Freeh concluded that school officials showed a “callous and shocking disregard for child victims.”

So much for the Paterno motto: “Winning with honor.”

Saint Joe, a veritable godlike figure. Penn State diehards insist his legacy is not tarnished, that “we all make mistakes.”

But the cover-up was more than “just a mistake.” It was a shameful dereliction of duty, a total abandonment of a morality.

A New York Times article, headlined “Paterno Got Richer Contract Amid Inquiry,” revealed the incredible greed of Paterno and his family.

Paterno got an obscene amount for merely coaching. His salary revealed the woeful priorities prevailing at Penn State and colleges all over the country.

Penn State agreed to pay him $3 million for the 2011 season. It wiped out $350,000 in interest-free loans it had granted him over the years. It gave him use of the school’s private plane.

It authorized a luxury box for him and his family at the campus stadium for 25 years. It even yielded to family demands to use the university hydrotherapy massage equipment.

Total package: about $5.5 million. This does not count another million reaped from TV deals and shoe and clothing contracts.

Legal experts in Pennsylvania said Paterno could have faced charges of child endangerment, perjury and conspiracy.

Even after Paterno died in January, an Altoona, Pa., lawyer, Richard Serbin, noted: “Wrongful conduct is not excused by death. The estate becomes representative of that person. Assets of the estate remain exposed to any verdict or judgment.”

Memory is seared by the testimony of an assistant coach who saw Sandusky rape a child. Yet officials deemed Penn State too big to fail.

Highton is an emeritus journalism professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. He can be contacted at jake@unr.edu. Highton graduated from Penn State in 1953. As a senior he covered the football team as the sports editor of the student newspaper. Paterno was then a young assistant coach.
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