EDITORIAL: Paterno commemoration a 'tone deaf' decision
- Penn State will commemorate Joe Paterno's first game as PSU's head coach.
- The event will be held at this Saturday's home game against Temple.
- The decision has sparked a firestorm of debate in various media.
Living in a small community can be like living in a cocoon.
It's warm, it's comfortable and it's safe.
It can also be incredibly insular and often leaves the town folk blind and deaf to the world outside.
That may be what is happening at Penn State's University Park campus these days.
If you haven't heard by now, during Saturday's home football game against. Temple, Penn State is planning an event “commemorating the 50th anniversary of Coach (Joe) Paterno's first game as Penn State head coach.”
That little tidbit was buried within a much larger football news release on Sept. 1. No other details have yet been released about the commemoration, although more particulars are expected later this week. Penn State took special care not to use the word “honoring” in the release, but most people will see the event as just that — a way to honor Paterno.
Intense debate: Not surprisingly, the announcement set off a firestorm of debate.
Paterno's backers strongly believe that the event is a long-overdue recognition of a man who gave his heart and soul to the university over a career spanning more than six decades. He built libraries, graduated his players and won 409 football games.
Paterno's critics believe just as strongly that any event honoring the longtime head coach is unconscionable. After all, the Freeh Report into the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal said Paterno "failed to protect” children from a child sexual predator. Sandusky, Paterno's longtime assistant coach, is in prison after being convicted of multiple counts of sexual abuse of children.
Of course, Paterno's supporters and his family have consistently slammed the Freeh Report as full of half-truths and innuendo, with no real basis in fact.
Still, Paterno himself said in a 2011 statement that “with the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”
The two sides are absolutely entrenched in their convictions. There is no real discussion, just bitter insults hurled across the social-media divide.
So which side is right?
Commemoration a wrong move: Well, in this case, it's not the right time to commemorate Paterno and his legacy.
There is still far too much that is not known about the case. Just recently, new allegations emerged that Paterno might have known that Sandusky was assaulting children as early as the 1970s. It's important to note that they are just accusations and were never proven at trial.
In addition, there could be more court cases yet to come. If those cases ever reach court, who knows what new revelations might emerge?
Nevertheless, the Penn State administration decided to commemorate Paterno's first game as PSU head coach.
Why would the PSU brass do that?
ESPN college football analyst Rece Davis might have said it best. The folks at Old Main are “incredibly tone deaf” when it comes to the reaction to the Paterno case outside the borders of Pennsylvania.
That can happen when you live in the warm cocoon of a small community. There's no doubt that in Centre County, and in Pennsylvania as a whole, Paterno is still a widely popular figure. There's little doubt that the commemoration ceremony on Saturday at Beaver Stadium will get a warm reception.
In the nation as a whole, Paterno is not viewed nearly so positively.
There's no doubt that PSU President Eric Barron is under enormous pressure from Paterno's backers to honor the former coach. Some of those backers just happen to be some of PSU's biggest financial supporters. It's has to be terribly difficult for Barron to turn his back on those folks — and their money — especially given the troubled economic situation at the university.
Still, despite the possible financial ramifications, Barron shouldn't have permitted the Paterno commemoration. The integrity of Pennsylvania's largest educational institution is more important than a few big donations.
Now is not the right time to honor Paterno, and it may never be the right time.
History will ultimately judge the Paterno legacy.
Until that final judgment is rendered, the school would be better served by sitting on the sideline during the Paterno debate.
If the school administrators weren't wrapped so tightly in the University Park cocoon, they might recognize that fact.