FORT WAYNE – Tear down the statue, they say now.
The flesh-and-blood man is off his pedestal, fools monument that it is. So lets pull down the graven image, too. Lets make Joe Paterno gone, the raised index finger and fluttering tie and high-water pants, leading his boys onto the field in sculptured glory out front of Beaver Stadium in State College, Pa.
I say nonsense.
I say you leave the bloody thing up until it rusts, as a reminder of what happens when perspective gets pulled out of shape like taffy, and good men are compelled to evil acts by a monster of their own creation. I say you leave it up, and every time you look at it, remember that there but for the grace of God goes your own dear Whatsamatta U.
You think what happened at Penn State, grisly details aside, is a contagion unique to a little town in the wilds of Pennsylvania? You think the same sort of expedient mindset – Defend The Brand At All Costs – doesnt exist in Tuscaloosa, Ala., or Baton Rouge, La., or South Bend?
Ive got some reading material for you, then. Its called Grimms Fairy Tales.
Fact is, Joe Paterno and Tim Curley and Graham Spanier and Gary Schultz – the whole rotten crew – are only extreme examples of what happens when you let the cart drive the horse. They are the inevitable result of allowing the academic mission of your university to be perverted because theres just so damn much money to be made from doing so.
And so you turn your student-athletes into exploitable billboards for Nike or adidas or whatever apparel company youve cut a juicy deal with. You send them out to play on Tuesday nights and Wednesday nights and Thursday nights and Friday nights, because television is paying you too much not to. You create a ruthless business model that enables you to hoard the lions share of the bowl money, because youre no longer an institution of higher learning but a wholly owned subsidiary of College Football Inc.
Which means, on occasion, that you swallow your nobler instincts in service to it.
Boil down what Louis Freeh said the other day, and thats what youre left with. Paterno and Curley and Spanier and Schultz werent evil men who set out to betray children preyed on by a monster; they were craven men in thrall to the imperatives of a corrupt system. Faced with doing what was right or protecting their market share, they chose the latter.
This makes them cowards, surely, and liars, and of course criminals. Paterno is beyond human reach now – and, please, no caterwauling about how hes not here to defend himself – but the other three arent. If theres any justice in the world, all three will do serious jail time for their roles in aiding and abetting a child molester. Lock em up and lose the key.
And as for Penn State?
Blow up the football program. Reduce the whole rotten hero-worshipping edifice to kindling. Let em spend the next generation or two taking on Wittenberg in tiddlywinks.
That might or might not change the culture that allowed Jerry Sandusky to run free on campus for a dozen years, raping young boys while Paterno, Curley, Spanier and Schultz covered for him. But youve got to start somewhere.
So, blow it up. And let the statue stand until the elements have their way with it.
To quote Neil Young: Rust never sleeps.
Unlike the human conscience.