For many, Joe Paterno, the famed coach of the Penn State football team, remains a hero even after the unbelievably tragic scandal with Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky, the assistant coach, was convicted of 45 criminal counts last month after horribly depressing testimony from eight men who said he sexually abused them as children.
And yet, in a letter to his ex-players written just before his death seven months ago that was circulated Wednesday, Paterno proved he never really understood the enormity of the charges against Sandusky and, as a byproduct, against his football team.
Even after being fired and the team widely maligned, Paterno was still defending the program and saying these charges shouldn't cast a pall over the whole team. Was Paterno really of sound mind when he wrote this?
It's absurd to imagine that what seems to have amounted to a massive cover-up because of football wouldn't mar the school's football legacy. It's absurd to imagine that any program that would justify covering up ongoing rapes of children over a many-year period would possibly maintain a good reputation.
In the letter, Paterno said: "This is not a football scandal and should not be treated as one." How very, very wrong he was, though. It was a football scandal.
The school valued football so highly that they were able to sweep the rape of a child under the rug for all intents and purposes. They were so afraid to disrupt their precious football program that they would deal with pedophilia "internally." It's despicable and horrifying and, yes, damning of the entire football culture.
Even more damning is the fact that Paterno went to his grave defending the program and so many students protested when he was fired.
How can anyone justify worshipping a person who wanted to deal with child rape internally. He may have been a great football coach and even a good man in many ways. I believe that without a doubt.
But he was very wrong about the football program at Penn State and this new letter only proves just how wrong he really was. It's sad that his reputation has been so sullied by all this, but it's also deserved, and the lack of self awareness he displayed is astounding.
Is this man really a hero or merely someone who placed way too high a value on a sport? I say the latter.
Do you think Paterno's letter is disturbing?
Image via FSonne-pennstate73/Flickr