Disgraced former Penn State University head football coach Joe Paterno was reportedly a fan of opera. It is said that the show is not over until the fat lady sings, and perhaps it is fitting then that the “fat lady” in this case is NCAA President Mark Emmert, who sang the swan song for PSU to be sure as he announced wide ranging sanctions against the school.
Paterno, who was directly involved in covering up his former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s child abuse (as revealed in former FBI director Louis Freeh’s scathing report), now has no legacy. With all his victories from 1998-2011 nullified, he is no longer the winningest coach in in history. How fitting that the very thing he was trying to protect (his record and program) is decimated. Had he cared about the innocent victims in this matter, he could not only have made a difference in their lives but would have been seen as a hero. All he had to do was pick up the phone and call the police; instead, he did everything in his power to not only protect Sandusky but to allow his perversion to continue.
The sanctions send a clear message to people everywhere that Penn State was directly responsible in this child abuse scandal. The sanctions leveled include the following:
- Vacating all wins from 1998-2011 (in the record books for the Nittany Lions and Joe Paterno as coach.
- A $60 million fine (equals the annual gross of the PSU program); money will be used to help sex abuse victims nationwide.
- A reduction in footballs scholarships (from 25 to 15)
- 5 years probationary period
- Virtual free agency for players who want to transfer to another program
Now Paterno’s family has responded to these sanctions as lacking “due process,” but with all due respect to them (for they are no doubt still mourning the loss of Paterno) where was the due process for Sandusky’s victims? There was absolutely none for them, and Paterno made sure of that. So as PSU students and Paterno’s family and others who still don’t get it defend the former coach, the clarity is there for everyone else. Sandusky was a monster and anyone who aided and abetted him was a monster too.
All one has to do is look at the annual gross of the program ($60 million) and know why Penn State officials wanted to protect that. For Paterno it ran deeper than that, even deeper than being the winningest coach in history. It was all about him, all about his reputation and his being a beloved figure. He was JoePa (his last name itself coming from the word “paternal”), and in the saddest of ways he was anything but. He wasn’t fatherly and he wasn’t loving here; he was as bad as the sadistic man he protected.
Joe Paterno’s statue came down on Sunday. In literature they call this foreshadowing, like the thunderstorms in Shakespeare’s great play Julius Caesar the night before Caesar is murdered in the Senate. Now we get the sanctions, and in some way this is worse than what happened to old Julius. Because at least he had Marc Antony come and give a funeral oration that saved his legacy. None of that can happen here for Paterno. His legacy is toast. He is done, and rightly so.
I would have argued that the sanctions are not enough. I would have shut down the football program for at least a year and then allowed it to come back under severe scrutiny. PSU gets away pretty easy here, despite how it looks. They still get to appear on TV, meaning they get a share of the rights to money from the networks. They get to keep their team and for the true believers, they still have their legacy, no matter how fractured, but the only ones they are kidding are themselves.
The fat lady sang for PSU on Monday. The song was not what they wanted to hear, and when it was over the show was too. Sandusky goes to prison forever and a day, and Paterno rests in no peace. Reputation, legacy, and money are meaningless now to him. Too bad he didn’t realize that when he was alive; he could have saved so many boys from the horror they faced.
In Shakespeare’s play Marc Antony said of Caesar, “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.” For Paterno whatever “good” he did is insignificant now, and the evil lingers for all time.