Courage isn’t laying a brick where Joe Paterno’s statue used to be.
Courage is telling authorities that one of the right-hand men to the most powerful figure on campus, if not the state, is committing acts of criminal perversion. Courage is demanding to be heard.
Courage is refusing to let status or political fallout preclude apologies and punishment in the face of absolute, unconscionable evil.
“No one will believe you,” longtime Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, the convicted pedophile who worked for decades under Paterno, reportedly told one of his victims.
No one will believe you. The words of a bully against the defenseless and the powerless.
Where is their commemoration? How will they be honored at Beaver Stadium this weekend?
We Are. You Aren’t.
There is dumb, and there is dumb served between two slices of willful ignorance. Penn State’s administration has elected to double down on the latter with plans to formally recognize Paterno, the iconic former Nittany Lions football coach, during Saturday’s home date with Temple — a date that coincides with the 50th anniversary of his first game as head coach in Happy Valley: Sept. 17, 1966.
JoePa would go on to win 409 contests, more than any other major-college football coach. According to court documents unsealed earlier this year, he might also have been told about Sandusky’s “boundary-testing” with young boys as early as 1976.
“I don’t want to hear about any of that kind of stuff,” the venerated coach allegedly told another victim at the time. “I have a football season to worry about.”
The words of the storm when confronted by the teacup.
We Are. You Aren’t.
As of early Wednesday morning, Penn State has not said how, or to what degree, it intends to officially commemorate Paterno’s 50th, other than attempting to bury the lede:
Penn State announces it will honor Joe Paterno at a game this year. Not exactly shouting it from the mountains. pic.twitter.com/8HxtkxG9D5
— Dan Wetzel (@DanWetzel) September 1, 2016
A function this weekend for more than 500 former players, independent of the university, had been planned for more than a year. In May, the Penn State Alumni Association sent a letter to university president Eric Barron, the Paterno family and the board of trustees asking them to all reconcile before Sept. 17. The letter said that a survey of members found 91 percent wanted the university to publicly honor Paterno, who passed away in January 2012, two months after being dethroned.
In July of that year, the school had removed a nine-foot statue of the coach from the Beaver Stadium grounds. JoePa’s prodigies have signed a petition asking for the statue to be returned. One of Penn State’s most famous football alums, ex-NFL running back Franco Harris, has said he plans to lay a brick on the berm where Paterno’s statue once stood.
Courage isn’t building a wall.
Courage is letting go of an icon, a provincial demigod, even as his acolytes storm the gates.
Courage is making a clean break from nearly four decades of institutional identity, and damn the cost.
We Are. You Aren’t.
And get bent.
As the cognoscenti tiptoe, olive branch in hand, Saturday feels more spineless than glorious. Old Main is grasping for unity, same as ever, and nothing unifies a fan base like dominant, winning football. But they also hired James Franklin, the Ron Prince of State College, and so a sleeping giant snores on. With each loss, the shadow of nostalgia looms ever larger, the agitation with the present growing ever louder.
If the Lions had been, say, 21-6 over their last 27 games and not 15-12, if the fans at Pitt and at Temple aren’t pointing and laughing, if Urban Meyer and Mark Dantonio aren’t turning them over and shaking out the lunch money every 12 months, maybe Saturday doesn’t happen. Perhaps if the wingtips at the top feel they can sell what they have, they don’t have to spend so much time selling what they don’t.
Or maybe they’ve tired of all the noise, the rage inside the Nittany bubble. The Freeh Report was hardly foolproof, nor, unsurprisingly, was the NCAA’s initial attempt at restitution; whenever Mark Emmert rolls up his sleeves and tries to play Eliot Ness, the scorecard inevitably reads like Popeye Doyle.
None of which necessarily absolves Paterno. Or the current administration. The smart play would be to keep kicking the can forward to never, but Old Main can’t seem to resist jumping in front of moving public relations trains.
The aforementioned alleged revelations from the mouths of JoePa and Sandusky were via documents which only came to public light this summer because the school is wrangled in a legal tussle with an insurance company over the burden of the $92.8 million in settlements promised to the former assistant coach’s victims.
“Although settlements have been reached,” Barron said in a statement, “it also is important to reiterate that the alleged knowledge of former Penn State employees is not proved, and should not be treated as such. Some individuals deny the claims, and others are unable to defend themselves.”
And yet another document reportedly quoted an insurance expert saying that Penn State had six chances to inform them of potential Sandusky landmines before the big one finally dropped.
Paterno was never charged and followed correct procedure when informed by then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary in 2001 that he had witnessed Sandusky committing indecent acts with a boy in the shower. And yet emails surfaced in 2012 which reportedly showed that Paterno — in discussion with then-president Graham Spanier, then-vice president Gary Schultz and then-athletic director Tim Curley — elected not to bring the incident mentioned by McQueary to police or child services.
We Are. You Aren’t.
Courage isn’t passing the buck.
Courage is risking a cash cow in order to salvage pieces of your soul again.
“In hindsight,” Paterno said before his death, “I wish I had done more.”
Loyalists point to the iceberg beneath the ignominious tip, the five unbeaten seasons, the 24 bowl wins, the Grand Experiment. The rest of the free world counters that the water therein was poisoned by association, stained by negligence and indifference, that a castle erected at the cost of even one innocent childhood — a childhood that can never, ever be reclaimed — is made of nothing more than sand and hubris.
When their boys ask, fathers in central Pennsylvania will say JoePa was a great coach, a fine man, as imperfect as the rest of us.
When their boys ask, fathers everywhere else just shake their heads.
Instead of middle ground, there are only middle fingers, raised to the heavens in defiance.
When Paterno’s name is mentioned, the only guarantee — perhaps forever — is that earth will be scorched. And this is worth celebrating?