On Wednesday, Penn State football players released a statement in the form of a video. It featured two senior student-athletes—one from each side of the ball—explaining that the team views the upcoming season as an opportunity, not as a punishment. The video was all of two and a half minutes long, seemed relatively unscripted, and out-classed pretty much every response to the scandal that we’ve seen since November. As I watched it, I couldn’t help but think about the Paterno family.
Since the beginning of this scandal—and especially since Joe Paterno passed away in January—it seems like every time someone, somewhere makes a decision regarding Penn State, the Paternos issue a magna carta scroll. I (badly) want them to stop.
And that sentiment has nothing to do with what Joe Paterno did and didn’t do for Penn Staters. I wore t-shirts with his likeness on it, chanted his name on Saturdays, and
studied procrastinated on Facebook in a library with his name on it. I was at the press conference when he was fired. I live-tweeted the riots downtown. I was by the statue when it was reported that he died, and I was there when it was accurately reported that he had died. I’m fully aware of the impact—both positive and negative—that Joe Paterno had at Penn State. I just don’t think that the totality of his contributions to the university, admirable and not, necessitates a lengthy press release from his family every time someone breaks news regarding Penn State or Penn State football.
Over the course of the past nine months, I’ve had more conversations with friends, family and colleagues about the Penn State scandal than I could manage to count. There are people who seem eager to debate the notion that this is a “Penn State scandal,” there are people who think that Joe Paterno never should have been fired, and there are people who were appalled when the university decided to tear his statue down. But, to my recollection, I can’t recall a conversation I’ve had with anyone praising the Paterno family for how they’ve handled this situation.
My respect for the Paterno family is profound. They’ve all given so much to my alma mater—millions of dollars being the least of those contributions. But, the sad truth is that Joe Paterno passed away. His legacy is tarnished, and things in Happy Valley aren’t the same as they’ve been for the past half-century; that’s a good thing. Part of that change means that the opinion of the Paterno family isn’t a necessary aspect of each step in this process.
I’m not a Paterno apologist. I think he was a great man in many ways, but that he failed in an instance that rightfully pulled him down from our pedestal. I understand that there is, largely, a national sentiment that seems to threaten the Paterno family’s accomplishments outside of this colossal misstep. I get that the Paterno family likely feels compelled to defend the honor of their patriarch; to remind people of all of the good that Coach Paterno did while he was in Happy Valley. The problem, though, is that each and every press release makes the entire controversy seem worse than it is.
They should have issued a brief statement about their understanding of the dismantling of the Paterno statue. They should have no-commented on the NCAA’s sanctions of the Penn State football program. They can set out to clear Joe Paterno’s name as much as they think is possible. But, they should do it without issuing lengthy press releases because they’re not going to be able to sway public opinion, and it’s just widening the chasm between people who bleed blue and white and those who want to see Happy Valley in ashes.