USA TODAY US Edition
Penn State still doesn’t get it
Honoring Paterno latest in line of post-Sandusky PR blunders
This Saturday, in what is believed to be a first in college football history, a university will hold a game-day ceremony to honor the enabler of a child rapist.
Penn State, what in the world are you doing?
At some point before, during or after its game with Temple, the university plans to publicly com- memorate the late Joe Paterno for the first time since he was fired in November 2011 in the midst of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
Details about what exactly Penn State plans to do to honor Paterno on the 50th anniversary of his first game as head coach are being kept under wraps by athletics department officials until Thursday, university spokesman Jeff Nelson said in an email Wednesday.
If the people who run Penn State could step outside their lives for just a moment, if they
could see how the Sandusky scandal and Paterno’s clear involvement in not stopping it still horrify so many of us around the country, if they had any sense of decency toward the numerous victims of Sandusky’s crimes, they would announce Thursday that they are canceling the Paterno ceremony.
They would say that they finally get it, that they understand how dreadful their myopia about this issue has been, that it’s time to move on, that it’s painful and pathetic to allow old wounds to resurface. And they would say that they are sorry.
Letting go of this repugnant and appalling chapter in the history of a proud and respected university should be the easiest decision Penn State officials have ever made. Yet, for some inexpli- cable reason, those officials don’t have it in them to stop bringing up Paterno, which brings up Sandusky, which brings up all those young boys and what Sandusky did to them while he was coaching defense at Penn State.
For nearly five years, school officials have consistently made the worst public relations decisions about the scandal and its aftermath, ensuring that instead of making it go away, they’ve kept it front and center in our national consciousness.
I’ve been hoping for several years that officials from the Big Ten Conference might swoop in and help Penn State figure out how to do the right thing. In 2013, after Wisconsin track legend and three-time Olympian Suzy Favor Hamilton admitted she had worked as a prostitute, the Big Ten took her name off its female athlete of the year award.
If it could do that, why not step in, even behind the scenes, and demand Penn State stop worshiping someone involved in something that was so much worse? In fact, the league did remove Paterno’s name from its football cham- pionship trophy in November 2011.
The so-called adults obviously are failing here. But there is a group at Penn State that gets it.
A college newspaper usually provides a fairly accurate portrait of the mood of a student body. On Sept. 2, the day after Penn State announced the Paterno ceremony, the school’s paper, The Daily
Collegian, wrote this in an editorial: “Penn State needs a reality check. This is not 2011. We need to move on.” There was more. “Paterno has not been a member of this university’s staff since 2011. He is no longer a community hero. Paterno was a remarkable part of this university for numerous years, and for that we have the right to be thankful. … But in light of these past years — even these past few weeks — this is in no way the right time or manner to ‘commemorate’ him, if he even deserves to be so.” And this: “Currently, the only associations these (current) classes of students have with Paterno is reading and hearing his name tied with Jerry Sandusky’s and lawsuits or coming from the mouths of Penn State alumni who can’t accept that their time here is no longer.
“This is our Penn State. It is a Penn State without Joe Paterno. It is a Penn State that is still trying to rebuild, make amends and propel forward.”
So who exactly are the mature adults at Penn State? And who are the ones who still need to learn?