Removing Paterno’s statue a small gesture
It’s such an empty symbol, this statue.
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Empty because it never should have gone up in the first place. Empty because taking it down is a hollow gesture in light of the crimes that took place at Penn State University.
Yet somehow this statue of Joe Paterno has become a focus of the discussion about Jerry Sandusky’s rape of children.
While victims weep, people talk about an effigy in bronze.
Nero never had it so good.
Then there’s the possibility of the NCAA giving Penn State the death penalty, which the school has richly (emphasis on the word) earned. Yet what does it matter if Penn State is shut down if the same culture goes unchecked at other schools around the country? It might not involve crimes against children — Lord, do we hope and pray it doesn’t — but it will involve some other issue bred by a culture gone amok.
While the NCAA would be taking its pound of flesh from Penn State, its presidents would be smiling as bids for the football championship game are submitted, cash registers ringing as they blink at the amounts.
Within this culture were Jerry Sandusky’s reprehensible crimes, in which a man with a title took mental, emotional and physical advantage of the innocent. Former FBI director Louis Freeh correctly blamed the culture at Penn State for fostering the evil deeds of a sick mind.
That Penn State officials were more concerned with football’s image than the young victims is not debatable anymore.
And admirable as the Paterno family might be in trying to defend their father’s name and honor, every step they take to do so only seems to foster what exacerbated the problems. Because the football culture at Penn State (and a lot of other places) could be summed up in a phrase Paterno liked to use: out of whack.
Paterno tried to keep things in perspective, but the trees got in the way of his forest. The worship, the adoration — it all contributed to a culture that told those in charge that football was more important than anything. As if a football player’s pass-catching or blocking abilities are more important than the chemistry or history major’s abilities to contribute to society.
Like sycophants, the faithful made their pilgrimage every week to genuflect at the altar of the pigskin.
The only thing missing was Baghdad Bob standing outside the stadium saying everything was fine.
Not that Penn State is alone. Ohio State fans can carp that their kids took only free tattoos, but to believe that Terrelle Pryor and the rest were not part of a culture of entitlement is naive. The same folks beating their chests about Penn State might soon find themselves soon defending an indefensible scandal.
NCAA president Mark Emmert appeared on the “Tavis Smiley” show on PBS this week and said many right and proper things about Penn State.
“I’ve never seen anything as egregious as this in terms of overall conduct inside a university and I never want to see it again,” he said.
He indicated the death penalty is possible.
“I don’t want to take anything off the table,” he said, adding: “The fact is this is completely different than a(n) impermissible benefits scandal like happened as SMU or anything else we’ve dealt with. This is as systemic a cultural problem as it is a football problem.”
“I don’t know,” he continued, “that past precedent really makes much sense in this case.”
Nothing makes a lot of sense in this case.
Not when a university president, vice president, athletic director and football coach are implicated the way they have been.
Not when a school’s facilities are used for rape of young boys.
Not when the screams and cries of victims are not heard.
Not when protecting a game on a field becomes more important than protecting children.
And given all that, people are talking about a statue?
Of course the statue should come down, but removing it is as blind and helpless a symbol as putting it up.
Of course the death penalty applies to Penn State, but even that is just a step. Because embracing the pervasive culture while punishing Penn State would only satisfy the vindictive.
The NCAA and its member institutions could be looking at real change, at the reason universities exist and the reasons sports are played there.
The NCAA could be considering the best way to eliminate making any sport bigger than the institution the sport represents.
If the NCAA wants to act, it could look not just at Penn State but at itself, and ask: How do athletics really fit in the mission of a university?
True and honest assessments might actually lead to true and real change.
It would take hard work. A lot of hard work. And sacrifice. It might lead to solutions.
The easy approach, well, that’s simply to take down the statue.