A Prescient Look Ahead Needs an Update
By Paul Myerberg // Nov 12, 2011
Many questions remain unanswered. Not all will be answered; some will remain unknown, as while countless rocks will be overturned there’s no way to truly get to the bedrock of the allegations that have knocked Penn State to its knees. This bedrock involves a violation of the university’s core values, a sort of shattering of the ethics and standards which governed Penn State long before Joe Paterno took charge of the football program in 1966. In the search for answers, those with ties to the university need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and attempt to answer the most difficult question: Was all this — our view of ourselves, our university, our community — a lie?
One person eminently familiar with the values behind Penn State University is Paterno’s son, Jay, a former quarterback for the Nittany Lions and, today, the team’s quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator. Paterno has experienced Penn State in three different incarnations: as the son of the king, his father; as a player, one of those lucky few; and as a coach, even if his tenure as an assistant under his father has drawn more ire than praise.
Jay Paterno’s view on this week’s development would be unique. He holds ties not merely to the university but to most of the key players involved in the recent developments — as a son, a player and an assistant. Paterno played under Jerry Sandusky, albeit on the offensive side of the ball. He coached alongside Sandusky, though again, on offense. He was on the P.S.U. staff when Mike McQueary was the team’s starting quarterback. He is his father’s son.
Perhaps no figure in State College can provide a more nuanced glance at all that has occurred since the allegations of sexual abuse were first brought to light.
Paterno is also one of the more opinionated coaches in college football. No other college coach — let alone an assistant — has his own column; Paterno’s appears every other week on StateCollege.com, a Web site located central to the university with a heavy focus on the school and its athletic programs. Football, of course, receives the heaviest focus.
It is for this Web site that Paterno, over the last six months, has discussed college football’s grand traditions, the indefinable aspects of leadership and the conundrum of whether to pay student-athletes. Paterno hasn’t written a column this week; not that he would, but he isn’t scheduled for another piece, to the best of my knowledge, until next Thursday.
Paterno is not a journalist: he is not required to adhere to any sort of mythical code of ethics, one that would require him to address a topic that hits so close to home. Perhaps he would skirt the elephant in the room altogether.
But now, more than ever, Penn State needs one of its own to attempt to explain how an institution built on a seemingly rock-solid foundation of values saw itself torn down by the antithesis of the morals it was purported to represent. Jay Paterno, given his background and multiple-level ties to the university and community, is one individual capable of supplying some insight to those still searching for answers.
He’s already given a glimpse at the big picture, a look behind the curtain at Penn State’s moral standard, and in doing so, Paterno presciently touched on how quickly the empire can come crumbling down. In his column on Nov. 3 — two days before the grand jury report’s release — Paterno discussed Penn State’s ideals: “Love and Loyalty,” Paterno wrote. “Across the years, that is what I have learned most from Penn State.”
It’s a Romantic portrait of life before the fall. Wrote Paterno:
I have seen, and then been a part of this, firsthand through all stages of my life. Why does a school refuse to cut corners and instead insist that their coaches pursue Success With Honor? Because it is a tradition marked not just in years but in decades, a phrase that has its roots in Joe Paterno’s 1973 commencement address.
Why are Penn State’s ideals so important? Because the value of a Penn State education is like a stock on the exchange. It is not a static value; our diploma’s worth is only equal to the market strength of Penn State’s reputation in the here and now.
Prophetically, Paterno also noted how quickly it can all come crumbling down:
The love for and loyalty to Penn State is a bond, an agreement even, among 570,000 living alumni — we understand that what each and everyone of us does not only heightens the Penn State name for ourselves, but for 569,999 other Penn Staters as well. It is a code by which our alumni live.
Just as quickly, that value can be gone. An athletic scandal, an academic impropriety, exorbitant salaries, rampant grade inflation. These can quickly overtake a school’s long history of academic achievement with single selfish acts.
“That is why Penn State — in the classroom, on the playing fields, among the most loyal alumni in the nation — fights to do things the right way,” wrote Paterno. “Penn State is not perfect, but the university demands a standard that compels the pursuit of the ideal.”
Those demands fell on deaf ears. The pursuit of the ideal, as Paterno put it, came up short. Now, all that’s left are questions after questions, all in the pursuit of another, far more meaningful query: How did we let this happen? And who among the Penn State family is best equipped to provide the answer?
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