Several days after the horrendous sex-abuse scandal broke, Penn State’s “legendary” (can we stop using that word yet?) head football coach Joe Paterno decided it was time to retire. At the end of the season.
Hours after he released a statement to that end (more about that below), he and the university president were fired.
Students, obviously oblivious to the severity of what Paterno had done, or not done, decided to rally to Paterno’s defense.
His pre-termination statement was revealing:
I am absolutely devastated by the developments in this case. I grieve for the children and their families, and I pray for their comfort and relief.
I have come to work every day for the last 61 years with one clear goal in mind: To serve the best interests of this university and the young men who have been entrusted to my care. I have the same goal today.
That’s why I have decided to announce my retirement effective at the end of this season. At this moment the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status. They have far more important matters to address. I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can.
This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.
My goals now are to keep my commitments to my players and staff and finish the season with dignity and determination. And then I will spend the rest of my life doing everything I can to help this University.
That’s quite an opening sentence. “I am absolutely devastated by the developments in this case.” He wants us to know that he has suffered. He’s devastated. It’s almost too much to bear. He is a participant in the alleged devastation, albeit an unindicted one.
What about “I am ashamed”? What about “I was grievously wrong”? Well, that would require Paterno to accounting for his own actions, a recognition that he is not another victim of Jerry Sandusky’s alleged crimes but, by his sins of omission, a facilitator .
The next paragraph is pure rationalization and self-justification. He’s been a good coach for 60 years, damn it! And don’t say he didn’t care about the university! Got that?
Moving on, his self-imposed retirement was intended, oh so generously, to spare the trustees the trouble of firing him. But not until the end of the season. Because the important thing here was to play the game well, you see. Finish with “dignity and determination.” I’ve got news for him: It’s way too late to preserve his dignity. The university decided he wouldn’t be finishing anything other than his career.
Next he reminds us once more of his own “sorrows.” And then, as if he had run a stop light, tosses out: “With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.” Not “regret” he hadn’t done more. Just hope, as in “It would have been better if . . .” And what a curiously incomplete sentence that is. I wish I had done more . . . so boys weren’t preyed upon? . . . so an alleged predator didn’t go undetected? He can’t bring himself to say any of that. He’s an innocent bystander, a witness, you see.
The last sentence is the doozy. He’s going to spend his last days helping the university. Because really, it’s the university that’s suffered such a blow here. But what about the . . . oh, never mind.
In my first post on this subject, I suggested that the Penn State football program be retired as a fitting symbol of the need to reorient the university’s priorities. If anything, Paterno’s self-indulgent letter, his attempt at a leisurely retirement schedule and the students’ upset over his dismissal only dramatize my point: Something big and symbolic, unprecedented even, is needed because after all of this, many still don’t get it.
The university, the football program and the “legendary” coach and his legacy are not the victims; they are the enablers of the alleged crimes. Football is not the top priority in life. Forgetting that and the identity of real victims (or, in one alleged instance, not bothering even to find out his name) are precisely how this all came about.