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A Roar, A Riot, A Time for a Clean Break

The Penn State University Board of Trustees could have avoided the damage and destruction by simply scheduling last night’s press conference in the morning, but beware: putting difficult decision off for another day, one might say, is what put the university here in the first place. So the Board met, announcing that it would have a press conference at 10 p.m., and trustees don’t open up discussions to the media at that time of night to merely read the night’s minutes. What had to be done had to be done, and the riots and anger — which went long into the night — are merely the byproduct of a thousands-strong clique that, somehow, can’t see the forest for the trees.

And so State College burned — or shook, rather. It shook with the clapping hands, stomping feet and rising voices of thousands, in turn damning those it felt violated the trust of a good man wronged while offering him their full-throated support.

“We want Joe.” It was not a plea. It wasn’t really a call to arms, even if a few of the calls came from atop an overturned news van. It seemed closer to an attempt to turn back the clock, back to when students would cram into Paternoville and chant the old man’s name, calling him forth for one last glimpse before returning to their tents and their kegs, hours away from another home game at Beaver Stadium.

Those days are over. Joe Paterno’s tenure is over after 61 years associated with Penn State, after 45 years running the show alone, and no, Penn State will never be the same again. But we knew that already.

Penn State changed when Jerry Sandusky first used his position within the university to found The Second Mile foundation, which he then allegedly used to meet and sexually abuse children — at least eight such instances, according to the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s grand jury report. From that moment on, nothing would ever be the same again. We can say that with hindsight.

Rioting doesn’t change that; rioting didn’t change that. All it did was delay the inevitable: sooner or later, Penn State — and all its supporters — need to embrace the fact that changes have been made, changes needed to be made, and more changes are coming. The Board made the right decision last night. It wasn’t easy. It took a commitment to Penn State’s “long-term interests,” which the Board referenced several times in its comments.

Paterno was “disappointed” in the Board’s decision, as many expected. Paterno: “Get a good night’s sleep. Study. Alright? We still got things to do. Have a good night.” This, in a quick speech outside his home, did little to quiet the damage. Did the rioters heed his words?

The rioters didn’t hear his words — couldn’t have possibly — and Paterno seemed as out of touch in that moment as he has seemed in explaining how he coached alongside Sandusky for a generation yet didn’t know about his alleged misdeeds.

And this was Paterno’s sendoff. A riot full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Those thousands who roared forgot that Paterno’s watch included not merely 409 wins but the sort of horrors many can only dream of. Rattling the cage after his dismissal is lunacy, pure and simple.

Paterno oversaw a program that shielded a monster. That’s not his lasting legacy, but his memorial must feature these developments alongside the wins and titles — above the fold, perhaps in the first sentence.

Those who took to the streets didn’t see this. They don’t see it. Maybe, one day in the near future, those who deride the university for dismissing Paterno will see that the right move was made.

This isn’t about one man. It’s not about football. It’s about making a clean break with the past. Riot if you want to, but know that in doing so, you leave another mess for the university you love to clean up. Know that rioting doesn’t add to Paterno’s legacy as much as add another footnote to his last days. It’s time to turn the page.

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  1. davecisar says:

    I was a big Paterno fan, do the right thing, go to class, dont pay players be selfless. This all came tumbling down with this revelation. He didnt report Sandusky to police even though he knew way back in 1998 the guy was a pedophile, the 2002 eyewitness from he GA raping that 10 year old confirmed it. Yet for 9 years he’s sat on his hands WATCHING Sandusky be around kids and ALLOWING more child rapes to happen. Repulsive, don’t know how he lives with that.

  2. Gotham Gator says:

    I haven’t agreed with all your prescriptions on this matter, but everything has been very well written and argued. Good job.

    My initial thinking on Paterno was to let him finish the season. It seemed fair that after 45 years of excellent service he deserved that. He graduated his players, he never sniffed an NCAA investigation, his program gave back to the institution far more than it ever took. In short, he ran the football program the way we’d all like to pretend the other 119 Division 1-A programs are run.

    For all that, I figured he deserved to have his goodbye. His last home game, his last bowl game, his last run at a Big Ten title. The farewell tour we all expected to see before last Saturday.

    But, of course, last Saturday ended any chance of that farewell tour. Had Paterno remained on the sidelines, we would not have heard testimonials or watched highlight reels streatching back to the 1960s. All we would have had is more commentary regarding the monster that ruined the lives of young boys and, in doing so, the program and Paterno’s legacy; and we would have heard additional commentary regarding how Paterno’s loyalty to his friend allowed him to ignore the truth and believe what he wished to be true instead of what he should have accepted.

    In short, Paterno’s ability to have that moment evaporated long before the actions of the board last night. Better to spare him the circus those last 5 games would have been. The board did him a favor.

  3. Jim says:

    I fail to understand how McQueary is withstanding nay fallout. He is the most complete failure of all. He had the chance to stop the monster in the act, and call 911. Yet he did nothing but tell his boss. All these bosses are getting canned (rightfully so) for failing to call the police. McQueary is the BIGGEST failure of them all. How can anyone consider this a clean break while he still coaches??


  4. BobJ says:

    I have no doubts that the housecleaning is yet a long way from being over.

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