There had to be one factory with a coach who got it, who walked with the philosophers in his spare time, who was plugged into the moral issues of his time.
There had to be one good place. Otherwise, what is the justification of college football?
After half a century of covering college sports, I came to think of the vast majority of big-time coaches as talented and maybe even charismatic hucksters, who were warped inside. Their job was to prepare for the next game, the next season. But morally, many of them were like moles, who dig in the earth but never see daylight.
With the Freeh report on the child sex-abuse scandal at Penn State emerging on Thursday, it seems clear that Penn State never prepared this sanctified football coach for the one real tough issue of his career. He could not act on evidence there was something wrong with his buddy down the hall.
Apparently, Paterno had never even walked through a room where the great common denominators of our time – the Oprahs, the Dr. Phils, the Jerry Springers – were blaring on television about the dark side of life.
The coach we needed so badly lived underground. And when confronted with hints and clues and allegations, he was surely not the person to do anything about them.
He had a game coming up. He had a practice. He had a recruiting trip.
And so did the rest of his university, and the fans who came rolling into the mountains on Saturday, and the sportswriters who idealized the coach. They all had a game. The pressure was on. The state of Pennsylvania and the whole football-loving nation wanted to think of Happy Valley as that good place that also produced linebackers.
We had the myth. How many children’s lives were ruined by a blind system of big-time college football that fit our needs?