I woke up this morning as I usually do, turned on my TV, and flipped between my news anchor girlfriend Robin Meade and Sports Center. When I got to the update of what happened in Happy Valley last night, I was appalled to see how a few students chose to express their unhappiness about Joe Pa’s treatment. The reporters in State College had the chance to talk to a few students, and their words upset me greatly. As I was in the shower, a phrase kept popping into my head, over and over again:
Being the face of an institution doesn’t give you more leniency, it holds you to a higher standard.
A few students were saying things like, “he did what he was legally required to do”, “we owe him more than this”, or the one that I will address specifically, “he made a mistake”. Joe Pa didn’t make a mistake; he made a decision to only do what was legally required of him, and left it at that. For a person that constantly demanded as close to perfection from his players, and challenged them to live ethical lives on and off the field, he did not follow that in this decision. He has himself admitted that he should have done more, and could have done more. And that decision led to a predator being able to walk free for an additional 8 years. That is the saddest part about this entire tragedy. As my friend Nikki Rudolph said in this post, that is the real issue here, that we cannot forget about.
Joe Pa is the face of Penn State, not just its sports, but to a large degree the entire institution. He is an ambassador to the institution every time he is shown on a Saturday afternoon leading his team on the field, or makes a statement to the press, or talks to a potential athlete. When people think of Joe Paterno, they think of Penn State, not just its Football team, and because of that, he needs to be someone that the institution would be proud to be associated with. I can say that if anyone worked for me that witnessed these horrendous acts, saw that nothing was being done, and was able to look at himself or herself in the mirror saying “I don’t know what happened, but I did what was legally required of me”, they would not be working for me for long.
In my opinion, the Board of Trustees made a tough decision, but they made the right one, and I would challenge people that are upset and outraged by this to ask yourself this question; Would you be as upset about this decision if it was any other person? I will not argue that Joe Pa did not do excellent things for the institution, I don’t think anyone will. However, the fact remains that as the public face of an institution, you are (or should be) held to a higher standard. You took on that responsibility when you became that face. I am reminded of the argument that Charles Barkley used to make saying that he didn’t ask to be a role model, and his behavior should not be held up on a pedestal, he is just a regular person. I don’t think that argument held water then, and I do not think it holds water now.
Penn State will continue to be a great institution of higher learning. Their football team will continue to have winning seasons. The chant will continue to be “We are… PENN STATE”, and I applaud the decision of the Board of Trustees. In this decision, they said that the reputation and respect of all of our current students, alumni, and fans all across the world is more important to us than any single person.
And please, throughout all of this, do not forget what the real tragedy is, and who the real villain is. It is not the Board of Trustees and their decision to get rid of Joe Pa, it is Jerry Sandusky and his immoral and illegal actions.