Ours is a reactionary society. It’s just the way we do things. Only after it was demonstrated that concussions were a serious quality of life threatening injury, did the NFL act to prevent them. Only after Tulsa Drillers base coach Mike Coolbaugh was struck and killed by a foul ball in a baseball game, did teams make their coaches wear helmets. The sport is still waiting for a fan to be injured seriously enough to do something about those balls hit into the stands.
So in the wake of the damning Louis Freeh report on the Penn State child abuse scandal, reaction has been swift and extreme. Take down the Joe Paterno statue. Eliminate the football program. Burn the university. Any or all of these would, to some degree, make us feel better. But not much else.
I’ve been to Penn State for a football game. Tailgated with the alums. Was taken by the sight of Coach Paterno leading his team onto the Beaver Stadium field with 106,572 in the stands. It was a real big time college football experience, fun time to be part of it. That was before 2011, when the Nittany Lions hosted the worst imaginable sports related scandal, the likes of which it will never fully recover.
Renovating the scenes of the crime may seem insultingly shallow, but it is necessary. And the statue must go. Fairly or not, it serves only as a reminder of the worst of times in State College, PA. Supporters of Paterno and his pals must be silent.
The NCAA can’t make the situation any better for the victims, nor much worse for the school. Sanctions would only be self serving.
What the sports governing body should concern itself with is the underlying ‘tail wags the dog’ mentality at these college sports factories, where lack of accountability creates the breeding ground for abuse of all kinds. In that regard this isn’t just a Penn State problem.
What’s needed most at the school is perspective. Penn State took the first step by hiring the former FBI director to take an unimpeded look into their closet, finding more dirt than anyone imagined. As it prepares to field all the civil suits, the university now needs to react thoughtfully, responsibly and comprehensively to the crimes. It can never make things right by the victims. It can however, attempt to become what it always professed to be. A model program.
“Success with honor” was the mantra Paterno left Penn State. There is no better time for the university to actually attempt to live up to it.
Bill Pucko is a columnist and long-time sports personality in the Greater Rochester area. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org