Joe Paterno Deserved The Flag To Be Lowered At Half Staff

Posted: January 30, 2012 in NCAA Football
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There was an interesting article from the Philly Post and it was written by Victor Fiorillo and he basically argued that Joe Paterno wasn’t a hero and questioned why all of Pennsylvania was flying their flags at half staff. Let me transcribe it to you – and I’m not here to pick on the guy, it was in the Philly Post and once you’re a columnist, people are definitely going to talk about you and your writing. He writes “Earlier today, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett ordered all the flags at commonwealth facilities in Pennsylvania to be flown at half staff. He did this after declaring that Paterno’s place in our state’s history is secure.” He continues by asking “Please, somebody tell me what I’m missing here?” He further continues by saying “There is no question that Paterno was aware of the allegations against Jerry Sandusky, the sexual abuse, and there is also no question that Paterno did as little as possible to intervene. He did what was legally required of him, but the legally required minimum shouldn’t be a standard we adhere to when it comes to the protection of our children.”

So I’ve been critical, as anybody else has been, of Joe Paterno in his lapse in judgment before he passed away. The argument against flying flags at half staff – that he’s a football coach and not a war hero, he’s not a president, but just a football coach…I get that. But I would argue this though, that we undervalue the importance of coaches in general, in our society. From a little league coach to a 7th grade girls volleyball coach to a nationally profound college football coach. Now Bear Bryant died in Alabama and Regan gave him the highest civilian honour…he was a football coach no? But if you lived in the south, you’d know how important Bear Bryant was to the citizens of that state.

Think about this with Joe Paterno: he recruited Mike Ditka out of high school – yeah, that’s how long Joe Pa had been around coaching.  So he started in 1950 – and I’ll start from there until he passed recently. That’s 62 years!! Let’s not call it coaching but instead let’s call it “teaching” This isn’t baseball managing where you sit there and put out the lineup card and play with a bat and a baseball and talk to Don Zimmer for 6 hours. This is a “teaching” role; football I’d argue is all about teaching. So for 62 years, Joe Paterno taught, on average they recruited – because there use to be unlimited scholarships but now it’s been reduced, somewhere between on average, for 62 years, about 30 kids a year.  Again, first 30 or 40 years of his career, you could recruit 40 or 50 kids and now at the end, it was closer to about 20-25 kids.

Do the math and it comes out to about 2,000 kids that Joe Paterno basically adopted. He had them for 4-5 years. He molded them, taught them, fed them and educated them, 17-22 year old kids. They were often from tough socio-economic backgrounds. My friends, that is touching – in my opinion, a lot of lives. It was sloppy, it was messy, it was ignorant in the end and it’s terribly sad. But people rioted when he got fired! What does that tell you about the emotional impact of Joe Paterno? 99% of coaches never make big money and you’ve never heard of any of them. All of them, from little league and onwards, have had an impact on young peoples’ lives. I’m okay with flying the flag in Pennsylvania at half staff.

I went and looked it up on the internet,  is where I went. It’s a site that talks about citizens who have died and how those who are prominent citizens can have the flag lowered in their honour. I think Joe Paterno qualifies for that! And why deny how big sports is in society? Sunday afternoons from 3:15 to 10:45pm, America sits in front of television sets, at home, bars and lodges and they watch football. The NFL, for 4-5 years now, has been the #1 television show in America…and be proud of it! It’s not some cheesy reality show where they ply the contestants with drinks, desperate people trying to get attention. Its kids who have dedicated their lives to a sport, discipline, practice, 70 hours a week, giving themselves to a sport, coaches who have molded lives….we should be ashamed of that?  We should be damn proud of it!! Sports are a backbone of any society: discipline, goals, achievements, success, handling and coping with failure…what’s wrong about any of that stuff?

So I have never had a problem honouring somebody who impacts thousands of lives – many of those lives are kids’ that wouldn’t have had the same quality of life without Penn State, despite the fact that it was really really sad at the end. It doesn’t wash away 60 years of general kindness, empathy and assistance to other peoples’ lives, so I’m okay with it.

So I don’t have a problem with the governor and all lowering the flag at half staff on the death of Joe Paterno because I try to compartmentalize things, take the emotion out of it, and compartmentalize Paterno’s life. Fifty years of goodness, decency and empathy and teaching is the first compartment along with a horrible lapse in judgement – that’s the second compartment. The third is “he has passed and how do we honour him”. Maybe as a guy, I can see sports like that – like I look at A-rod for example. He’s a great talent, one compartment. Not a great leader would be the second compartment, a little to hollywoodish for me would be the third compartment. But I can keep them all separate! Hall of Fame, first ballot? Absolutely!! I could even go with like Pete Rose: the great baseball hitter, Pete Rose personally – not my kind of guy, Pete Rose gambled on baseball. I can separate all 3…put him
in the Hall of fame no problem! Maybe I’m wrong on them though.

But I look at Joe Paternos’ 50 years of good, a stretch of really horrible judgments and now that he’s gone, how do we honour him? All 3 are separate and 2 of the 3 would be good. The emails I get in are interesting. One person writes “what Paterno did was a deliberate cover up to protect his image.” No he didn’t, first he did not commit a crime and secondly, he went to higher authorities. That’s not a cover-up! A cover- up is never telling anybody!

This is a better argument against Joe Paterno, an emailer sent me this saying “He made an informed and considerate decision to harbour a pedifile” now, it’s a little strong but it’s certainly a better argument. That he allowed Sandusky to be on the campus for a decade after the incident. That’s a much better argument. I bristle at the “Joe Paterno committed a crime and covered it up” Again, he didn’t commit a crime. Joe Paterno, like many humans, is limited. At 75 years of age, we’re all even more limited. Ask any neurologist, we’re not the same past 58! This guy was like 20 years past that!

Do you want to get in a car, with your 78 year old grandpa on the freeway? That’s just driving! Forget about crucial situations in life. My biggest knock on Paterno is that it’s ridiculous to have a 75 year old man coaching a major college football power. Frank Beamer is old by college football standards – I think he’s like 59 years old. Paterno was 26 years past that and was 36 years past that when he recently passed away! By the way, he was only fired for Sandusky – they were going to let him keep going, he might’ve reached 90 had he kept going. I mean, they were going to let him keep going – that is hero’s worship, small town’s hero worship is pathetic.

Having said that though, I will argue with people who say it was a cover-up. I think Joe Paterno, like a lot of people, was limited….you have to remember what sports coaches are like. Jerry Tarkanian, when he was covered years ago in Vegas didn’t know of the Iran Crisis. He walked through an airport and saw yellow tied ribbons and asked “what’s that?” “Well, it’s the Iran crisis” someone said to him. He then asks “well, what’s that?” Jerry Tarkanian didn’t go to a movie for almost 3 decade, didn’t go to a movie theatre. Coaches are the most myopic people in the world and as the money has gone up and the competitive zeal has gone up, they simply have no life outside of football. Nick Saben, I’ve read about guys on his staff who’ve said that for Saben, it is family, football and nothing else! He’s surely not going to the movies.

Was Joe Paterno isolated? Yes! Do you think he was sitting around and watching the stuff that you and I watch at night? Nope! He’s definitely not. His whole life was coaching and the Penn State Athletic department. So a lot of these coaches are limited socially are limited in their scope and understanding in crisis. Now, any reasonable person would know that when Jerry Sandusky comes to you or Mike McQueary comes to you with this information….you’d get Sandusky off the campus and Joe Paterno does not get a pass on that one. But when you listen to his interview with Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post, if you take Joe Paterno at his word – and I never thought that he was an intellectually dishonest person, like I thought he could be cranky, I thought he could be outdated but I never thought of him as a liar.

NCAA sanctions show that Penn State ran one of the cleanest programs in the U.S. Joe Paterno never had any NCAA run-in’s. So you can say a lot about Joe Paterno but you can’t say that he was a dishonest, lying guy. There are a lot of coaches you can say that about – but you can’t say that about Joe Paterno. Heck, he ran that program for 40 years and how many infractions did they have? It was like either between none and zero! They were never in trouble. Michigan had issues, Ohio State had issues, USC, Oklahoma, Texas, Miami…everybody had issues! But Penn State didn’t have any issues. So if you take him at his word, he seemed overwhelmed by the whole sexual allegations…it just seemed well over his skies.

Again, I’m not giving him a pass, its ridiculous! But the reality of the fact is that coaches are sheltered, isolated, and sometimes socially and completely inept. Belicheck is bordering on complete ineptness socially; his whole life is inside of a film room! He’s not going to be a guy who is hosting a party…that’s just not who he is! The Monday morning after the entire Jerry Sandusky story broke out; it was like 11:30am EST I was publishing my rant and was like “get him outta there…Fire Paterno!” I’m going to bristle that it was a cover-up because he went to somebody above him and said “we’ve got a real big problem” it was the Grand Jury testimony…yet those guys lied! The guys above him made humongous errors, Joe Paterno relayed the information.

So you can say whatever you want about Joe Paterno, but Penn State for 40 years was one of the most ethical programs in the country. When you’re talking about the big boys of college football – the big money programs, it might’ve been the most honest out of all of them! It had its flaws of course, but ethics was not one of them as far as the NCAA is concerned.


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