One response to the memorial service for Joe Paterno:
People were attracted to Penn State because of its successful, charismatic and apparently idealistic football coach? Sorry, but that makes me just a bit uneasy.
I can see going to a school for its academic rating or a specific major, or well-known teachers who can be accessed by signing up for a course, or reasonable in-state tuition, or a scholarship, or a workship program that prepares you for real life, or proximity to home, or distance from home, or a beautiful setting. Or even the reputation of a party school.
But choose a university because you might score an occasional ticket to a football game or once in four years find yourself in the presence of a JoePa? Yikes. How did a football program become a beacon for a university?
I was able to watch the memorial live, streaming on PCN.com. I loved the stories about how Paterno recruited players’ mothers in their kitchens, raving over their pasta, and I believed every word about his fierce loyalty to players. And I respect the dean who praised Paterno's support for the classics.
Paterno was way above most big-time coaches in his relationship to education, and the media reported it.
However, I could not help but react to the defensive note being spun around the many wonderful traits of Paterno, almost as if they had been coordinated by a public-relations firm. Or defense counsel.
The most outspoken comments were from Nike’s Phil Knight, who said the flaw in the Sandusky investigation “lies in the institution, not in Joe Paterno’s response.”
Paterno wore Knight’s footwear. So there’s that.
The people from the university seemed to be addressing some other audience – history? A grand jury? The politicians of the state?
It is hard for an outsider to believe that insiders in the extremely inbred society of the university and the football program did not know about Jerry Sandusky’s at-least very creepy tendencies.
Whatever Mike McQueary told him, there is no evidence that Paterno understood the implications, or did enough to follow up. For a man that powerful to turn the rumors over to authorities (whom he apparently stonewalled) was just not enough. Football players are trained to follow Coach. However, I would expect a university and the surrounding community to be a bit more skeptical.
The tributes to Paterno were very touching; he had a better grip in a long and honorable life than most big-time football coaches – which is saying what?
But people’s choosing a university in order to be in the reflected glow of a hallowed football coach should be enough to make us question the link between football and higher education, so-called higher education. Even if Coach loved the classics.
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.