By Mark Heisler
Of course, this is still a nation of laws in which you’re innocent until proven guilty.
It’s just that these days you don’t get due process of the law until long after you have gotten due process of us ... and the “us” isn’t our rational side, but our bloodthirsty one, as presented by media.
It’s especially unfortunate when one of our intensely mediated pastimes intersects with real life.
If the actions of, and/or charges against, former Penn State assistant Jerry Sandusky constituted a full-blown tragedy, it took a millisecond for the media to turn it into something it could get its teeth into ...
A Joe Paterno story.
Sandusky was nobody. Paterno was famous, long held up as a role model (sometimes by JoePa), still coaching at 84, even if now from the press box, as the program took its lumps and, whether he was haloed or not, alumni yearned for his departure.
Paterno’s inaction was indefensible, informing the athletic director of the 2002 incident but failing to report it to police. In the absence of actual knowledge of what went on between the two men, it may also have been human and understandable ... not that many humans were trying to understand.
It’s not hard to imagine a contrite Sandusky assuring Penn State people he would seek help, a common pattern in sexual abuse cases like the recent one in which Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny threatened to jail 15 Catholic priests who heard peers’ confessions but refused to cooperate with authorities.
The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network says 67 percent of assaults are by someone known to the victim, 38 percent are by friends or relatives, and 60 percent go unreported.
On the other hand, it’s not a Judge-Not-Lest-Ye-Be-Judged world anymore.
“Penn State Students Rally in Support of Incompetent, Morally Complicit Old Relic,” went a Deadspin headline the day after the story broke.
With Paterno announcing he’d retire after the season, ESPN columnist LZ Granderson called for his immediate firing for “allowing that animal to stay on campus.”
And that was the professional perspective.
For the pure hate that bubbles under the cauldron, super-heating the process—no matter what the press discusses—talk show hosts took their usual role as elevator operators on the descent into hell, and the listeners and readers, safe in their anonymity, posted their rage.
Wrote “Disgusted” on Business Insider:
“The best you can say of [Paterno] is that he’s so drooling old that he’s innocent by ignorance and addle-mindedness. … FUCK PENN STATE! YOU ARE … MOLESTERS!”
Retaining a balanced perspective, “Spencer096” wrote on The Big Lead:
“Fuck Ohio State. fuck penn state more.”
Announced former wrestling commentator and defrocked ESPN reporter Mark Madden on Boston’s WEEI:
“There’s a rumor. … Jerry Sandusky and Second Mile [his charity] were pimping out young boys to rich donors. That is being investigated by two prominent columnists even as I speak.”
Tweeted Sirius’ Opie and Anthony, insulted at having their integrity questioned:
“To the CUNTS that think this is a bit, FUCK OFF! Joe Paterno failed as a human being. Go defend football over a kids innocence somewhere else.”
Of course, this was the worst of the worst, not that it was hard to find.
I Googled “Fuck Joe Paterno” and “Fuck Paterno” and got 498 hits.
With “Paterno sucks,” Google came back with 2,890 (in 0.21 seconds).
Since that’s hardly the full spectrum, I’d guess hundreds of thousands typed out profane or obscene condemnations of Paterno. Counting all the other languages of the wired world, it may have been millions.
Paterno had been at Penn State for 62 years.
Of course, the demographics of today’s instantaneous process are such that he had been there 40 years before most of this audience was born.
Having tearfully informed his players that he would resign, Paterno, who turned down multimillion dollar NFL offers and raised $14 million for the library wing named after him, was summarily fired.
University President Graham Spanier went too, adding to a list that is sure to get longer.
With the university’s future at stake—in other words, looking at the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars—the trustees didn’t have time for niceties like telling Paterno in person.
Instead, they told him by telephone, 15 minutes before announcing it in a news conference.
A downtown riot ensued, which wasn’t as heartwarming as it sounds.
Surprising everyone with another of Paterno’s latter-day comebacks, the Nittany Lions, who went 7-6 last season, were 8-1, 5-0 in the Big Ten, about to host new conference member and No. 19-ranked Nebraska.
At 7-6, there would have been fewer students in the streets, overturning fewer cars and requiring the police to use less pepper spray.
Saturday’s game is now one of the most anticipated in college football history, as the Nittany Lions try to win one for JoePa.
After Paterno resigned, but before he was fired, Rich Mauti, a ’70s wide receiver, went on “SportsCenter” in his campaign to get former players to the game in support of their coach.
That was another thing about Paterno. His players loved him, even ESPN’s Matt Millen, who choked up on the air, despite having played James Dean to Joe’s Jim Backus when he was there.
If you’ve heard that one before, it’s not like the awe and fear Bob Knight inspires.
In Paterno’s first bowl appearance at the Gator in 1968, when he went for it and missed on fourth-and-1 at his 15, the Lions, who had Florida State 17-0, wound up settling for a 17-17 tie.
Paterno told Sports Illustrated’s Dan Jenkins that a player came up to him afterward on the flight home.
“Joe, the guys wanted me to tell you something,” the player said. “You blew it.”
Of course, Mauti still thought Paterno would be coaching when he made his appeal to former Nittany Lions.
On the other hand …
“Rich, you mentioned the kids that are still there,” said anchor Robert Flores. “They’re vying for a conference championship. They’re off to a fine start and there’s still a lot to play for on the field.
“Do you think it’s fair to them to have Coach Paterno coach this game Saturday in light of all we’ve heard, in light of this awful story?
“Is it fair to the players?”
If other distractions are inevitable before The Big Game, at least the players won’t have to worry about that one.
AP / Matt Rourke
Penn State coach Joe Paterno watches his football team practice Wednesday. He was fired later that day.