Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Joe Paterno and the renaming of Beaver Stadium

On November 9, 2011, Penn State University’s Board of Trustees did what they believed was in the best interests of Penn State University. They fired the man who built Penn State University-- they fired Joe Paterno, the school’s longtime head football coach. Seventy-eight days after he was fired, the 84-year- old Paterno died on January 22, 2012.

Less than two months later, a Quinnipiac University poll (Connecticut) indicated a majority of Pennsylvania voters wanted Beaver Stadium, the home of the Penn State football program renamed in honor of Joe Paterno.

“There is lingering respect for Joe Paterno,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

“One has to wonder: If the Sandusky scandal had never happened whether support for renaming the stadium would have approached 100 percent.”

The renaming of Beaver Stadium would create a lasting legacy between Paterno and Penn State University. The legacy Joe Paterno created has to include what took place in the days that followed Jerry Sandusky’s indictment on November 4, 2011 on more than 50 charges related to child sex abuse allegations, charges that included an alleged event that took place in the Penn State football locker room in 2002.

On Saturday, October 29, Penn State beat Illinois 10-7 giving Paterno his 409th win, surpassing Eddie Robinson's record for most wins by a college football coach. “JoePa” (as he was affectionately called) was presented with a plaque by then Penn State President Graham Spanier and Athletic Director Tim Curley. The plaque read "Joe Paterno. Educator of Men. Winningest Coach. Division One Football." Six short days later, life changed forever for Paterno, Spanier, Curley and many more when former Penn State Assistant Football Coach Jerry Sandusky was indicted.

Sandusky’s arraignment created an international firestorm in the days and weeks that followed, resulting in Paterno, Spanier and Curley’s firing. While the anger directed at Penn State has subsided, the original issue remains – why did Penn State and the athletic department seemingly cover-up allegations Sandusky raped young boys in the Penn State football locker room first in 1998 and again in 2002?

Pennsylvania Attorney General has made it clear when the indictments were announced-- legally Joe Paterno had followed the law in dealing with what he was first told by then-graduate football Assistant Coach Mike McQueary on a Saturday morning in 2002. Paterno told Jenkins he had “no inkling” that Sandusky might be a sexual deviant.

Penn State’s Board of Trustees who decided to fire Paterno, will ultimately decide what Penn State will offer to Paterno’s lasting legacy.

The Board of Trustee’s released a statement last week, four months after they fired Paterno and seven weeks after Paterno’s death, explaining why they decided to fire the man who had coached their football team for 46 years.

“On Nov. 9, the Board unanimously made the decision to remove Coach Paterno for the last three games of the season. He had announced earlier that day that he would be retiring at the end of the season.

“Our most important reason – by far – for this difficult decision flowed from what we learned on Nov. 5, for the first time, from a “presentment” (report) by a Pennsylvania Grand Jury about Coach Paterno’s early 2011 sworn testimony.

“The report stated that a Penn State graduate assistant had gone to Coach Paterno’s home on Saturday morning, March 2, 2002. The report quoted Coach Paterno as testifying to the Grand Jury that the graduate assistant told him that he had seen Jerry Sandusky, the coach's former assistant coach up to 1999, "in the Lasch Building showers fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy."

“While Coach Paterno did his legal duty by reporting that information the next day, Sunday, March 3, to his immediate superior, the then Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley, the Board reasonably inferred that he did not call police. We determined that his decision to do his minimum legal duty and not to do more to follow up constituted a failure of leadership by Coach Paterno.

“Many alumni, faculty, staff and students are inquiring about how we plan to honor Coach Paterno’s many contributions to the University. It has always been the Board’s intention to fulfill his employment contract and to name him head coach emeritus. Other options also are under consideration, but the Board feels it would be premature to make any final decision at least until the final report of the independent counsel Judge Louis Freeh is publicly issued in conjunction with the Special Investigations Task Force.”

The most telling statement from the Board of Trustees: “We determined that his decision to do his minimum legal duty and not to do more to follow up, constituted a failure of leadership by Coach Paterno.”

Joe Paterno’s football program generated $50 million in revenue for Penn State University annually in the last decade; making Paterno the most powerful man at Penn State. In the simplest of terms – Joe Paterno and Penn State had 50 million reasons to do their best to cover-up the crimes Jerry Sandusky is alleged to have committed in the school’s football locker room.

Paterno suggesting to his superiors in 2002: “We got a problem, I think. Would you guys look into it?’” is as unacceptable today as it was when Mike McQueary first told Paterno about the horrific scene he witnessed in the locker room.

Paterno had three sons, two daughters and 17 grandchildren. As unimaginable a picture as Mike McQueary had painted for Paterno, he had to know what happened was wrong, and he had to take charge. Paterno had to know what he was being told would forever taint Penn State football and Penn State University. As the de facto leader of the Penn State community, Paterno had to know what to do, but he didn’t take on the leadership role.

The test of a real leader is how they react to the toughest of challenges. It’s easy to react to the peaks; the challenge is in what you do when you’re in the valleys.

The greatness of Joe Paterno, his legacy is in large part the hundreds millions of dollars he raised for Penn State and the profile he created for Penn State, allowing Penn State to become one of America’s leading universities. It’s also in the many men he coached, how he helped shaped their lives. But it’s also in how he didn’t properly handle the Sandusky allegations.

How should Penn State honor Joe Paterno? The school needs to and should do something. Paterno is at the center of one of the biggest embarrassments in Penn State history, but he is also responsible for much of the success and positive profile Penn State has enjoyed. Renaming Beaver Stadium, at least in the short term isn’t the right idea. Time might heal many of the wounds that have been opened, but that time isn’t now.

For Sports Business News, this is Howard Bloom

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