Joe Paterno’s statue at Penn State University is allegedly coming down this weekend. Headlines are also telling us that Penn State is being urged by legal experts and educators to shut down their football program to avoid the “death penalty” sanction from the NCAA. Paterno won a D-1 record 409 games over 46 years as the Nittany Lions’ coach at Penn State. He was fired in November after several charges of child sexual abuse were filed against Jerry Sandusky. But you know all of this. The real question is should the statue be taken down and should the football program — one that brings in over $70 million every season — be shut down for a few years or indefinitely?
First, the statue should absolutely come down. I have no doubt in my mind that Joe Paterno was an excellent football coach to the extent that he knows the sport well, coached well, and brought home a lot of Ws for the Nittany Lions. But at the end of the day, who really gives two shits? The man knew about severe sexual abuse happening to more than one child in the locker room that his football players shared. To display the statue one day longer at Penn State would continue to honor Paterno as a good man. It would be disrespectful to all of Sandusky’s victims and their families. The children whom Sandusky abused looked up to Paterno and deserved his protection and respect. He chose not to grant them any protection nor respect so his statue and legacy deserves to be removed from the public eye at Penn State. Sadly, I think his legacy will remain untarnished in many die-hard Penn State fans who fail to see the severity and tragedy of Paterno’s actions and lack thereof regarding Sandusky.
Should Penn State shut down its football program. Absolutely. By allowing the football team to go about its business and bring in large amounts of money for the Penn State community, the University would demonstrate that PSU values athletics and profits more than the lives of innocent children and the protections that should be granted to any member of their community. Institutional values linked to athletics should not trump moral ethics linked to humanity and dignity of all persons. When I first read about the program ending, I found myself asking the same question a lot of people are asking: Why should the players be punished for horrific acts committed before their time at PSU? I hear that argument, I do. But at the end of the day, the players should be agreeing with the decision to end the program in the aftermath of Sandusky’s abuse and after the report has been released proving that several faculty and staff at PSU knew about the abuse and did nothing about it. If I were a football player I would not want to associate myself with a University that showed such dishonor, disrespect, and neglect for the law and rights of it’s community members. I would not want to put that uniform on and neither should any athlete. It is about time we start holding institutions responsible instead of turning our cheek or giving a slap on the wrist because dollar signs and checkbooks matter more. I hope PSU shows America and the rest of the world, for that matter, what true values are and how to carry them out with integrity. There are many institutions in this country that should be listening and paying attention because they could be next. We need to stop living in a world of Kobe Bryants, Ben Roethlisbergers, and where sexual assaults on college campuses and within our military are ignored. It is time we hold not only the individual but the institution accountable.
What do you think?