News From Terre Haute, Indiana

July 21, 2012

RONN MOTT: The lessons of Paterno, Penn State

Ronn Mott
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — The sports world is involved in a huge argument about the report on Penn State football. It points an accusatory finger at the late Coach Joe Paterno and other officials at the college, including the former president. They’re even arguing whether or not the statue of Joe Paterno, in front of the stadium, should be taken down. Other things flying in the air and in print are whether Penn State should give up football for a year or two, and should tear down the culture that has been built by Penn State football. The morality of what has happened to young boys is abysmal. Former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky has been convicted, and the university should be terribly ashamed.

It’s very simple to this observer. Joe Paterno simply stayed too long at the dance. His championship football teams stopped having national championships in the 1980s. But Joe Pa held on. He was offered a lot of money by a National Football League team and he refused it. He said, “How do you put a price tag on walking across the campus on Saturday morning seeing the leaves blow around and people smiling, being happy, and paying homage to their favorite coach?”

Well, you can’t put a price tag on that. You should, however, give it up after such a lengthy time. Injuries, failing recruiting and ill health should have told Joe Paterno it was time to quit. (This is where you slide in the knowledge that his defensive coach was a sexual predator and it concerned young boys). My God, how can you slide this under the rug?

The culture of Penn State football was simply bigger than the university. For that matter, it was bigger than the entire state of Pennsylvania. Joe Paterno was not only the beloved coach, he was Solomon, Jesus Christ and Buddha, and could do no wrong. He knew it was time to give it up, but being this respected individual, he could not leave the position of high regard this culture had placed upon him.

Penn State is not the only university where football overwhelms everything else, but is, at this time, the only school that has put the safety and health of young children way in the background of the culture of their football program.

The University of Notre Dame had such a culture, but they did not have Mr. Sandusky on their staff, and they did not let football come before the academic excellence of this most-favored Catholic university. Obviously, their football program has suffered somewhat, but the school holds to academics first.

Others should pay heed. It’s probably too late for such culture to be torn down at Ohio State, Michigan, USC and Alabama, just to mention a few. But this episode at Penn State should wake up the presidents at these schools and have them ask themselves, and their governing bodies, what the hell are we? Are we an institution of higher learning, or are we here to make this game God-like?

You and I know the answer. But the question remains … will these schools find the answer that we already know?

Ronn Mott, a longtime radio personality in Terre Haute, writes commentaries for the Tribune-Star.