The late Joe Paterno, the school’s legendary coach, was one of those powerful people. His decisions were among those that enabled Jerry Sandusky, a former PSU assistant coach, to molest and rape boys for years.
Paterno’s once-golden legacy is now eternally stained.
From this point forward, Penn State’s sordid story should make universities with successful athletics programs shudder: How to keep a culture of “protecting the brand” from infiltrating every nook and cranny of a university. Penn State trustees hired former FBI Director Louis Freeh to provide a full investigation, and his 267-page report released Thursday was damning.
As Freeh detailed, everyone from the university president to PSU janitors were unable to do what was necessary because they didn’t want to harm Penn State’s image or they were too scared to say anything for fear of losing their jobs. All hail the mighty Nittany Lions and their vaunted coach.
Those young boys? They were collateral damage, sacrificed to the greater good of Penn State University.
Penn State’s saga is the extreme of the extreme; gross, horrible, despicable. It’s too much to fathom, really — a cherished assistant coach raping teenage boys he had befriended through his mentoring program, and a university covering it up because it didn’t have the guts to stop it. Sandusky, the once-cherished assistant coach now convicted on 45 criminal counts for abusing 10 boys, is awaiting sentencing.
Our concern isn’t that other coaches at other schools are getting away with similar crimes.
Instead, it’s that the win-at-all-cost mentality so persuasive in big-money, high-profile college sports — and so obvious at Penn State — is impossible to rein in. That ship has sailed.
Coaches make millions. Television contracts are negotiated in the billions. Top recruits in football and basketball don’t go to schools that (a.) don’t win; (b.) aren’t in the best conferences; and (c.) aren’t on TV.
Success means everything. The pressure to win, and to keep it going, is immeasurable.
That addiction to the intoxicating effect of success makes coaches such as Paterno kings of their domains. The all-powerful are few and far between; for every Paterno are countless coaches good enough to get hired but average enough to get fired three years later. The best of the best you can count on only a few hands.
Paterno and his football team became too powerful on Penn State’s campus, too untouchable. It was his program; in some ways, his university. No one wanted to be the scapegoat who pulled the plug on Penn State’s success by outing a child molester in its football locker room.
Administrators at schools like Penn State — athletically, the best of the best — must ask themselves: are our best coaches too powerful? Are our best teams entities unto themselves? Could the money and euphoria of success cloud our judgment?
Penn State has given universities an opportunity to re-evaluate and, if necessary, to recalculate their priorities. When a campus is silenced by the power of a few, it leads down a dark, unforgiving road.