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Scandal leaves Paterno’s reputation in tatters
Question of the Day
A day after Paterno was fired, two Pennsylvania senators announced they were rescinding their support for Paterno’s nomination for the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Big Ten announced Monday it was renaming its trophy for the conference title game, saying it would be “inappropriate” to keep Paterno’s name on it.
“The trophy and its namesake are intended to be celebratory and aspirational, not controversial,” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said.
Much of the anger stems from disillusionment, said psychologist Stan Teitelbaum, author of “Sports Heroes, Fallen Idols.”
Society has a need for heroes, Teitelbaum said, and Paterno fit the bill perfectly with his “Success with Honor” philosophy. He steered Penn State clear of the tawdry scandals that sullied the reputations of high-profile programs such as Ohio State, USC and Miami, and demanded that his players conduct themselves with high character and morals.
He prized education _ his name is on a library at Penn State, not an athletic facility _ and Penn State could talk about “student-athletes” without drawing snickers. The Nittany Lions had 47 academic All-Americans under Paterno, a national-best 15 in the past five years alone. Penn State’s graduation rate consistently ranks among the best in the Big Ten; in 2010, its 84 percent rate trailed only Northwestern’s 95.
When Paterno was revealed as flawed _ as human _ people who had invested so much faith in him felt betrayed, Teitelbaum said.
“Joe Paterno was perceived as a very benign father figure. Father figures are supposed to protect us from the dangers of the world,” Teitelbaum said. “As more and more things came out, people became more and more disappointed and disappointment turns to anger. He was supposed to have spared us.”
There is an element of schadenfreude in Paterno’s humbling, too.
Paterno was proud of being able to claim the moral high ground and made no attempt to hide it. He once said he wouldn’t retire because he didn’t want to leave coaching to the Jackie Sherrills and Barry Switzers of the world.
Switzer won three national titles at Oklahoma, but his Sooners were college football’s renegades. Oklahoma was slapped with three years’ probation for major recruiting violations, and five players were arrested on felony charges before Switzer stepped down in June 1989. Sherrill had brushes with the NCAA at both Texas A&M and Mississippi State.
“There were a lot of people who felt Joe was sanctimonious and holier than thou and pious when there wasn’t any reason to be,” Fitzpatrick said. “In that sense, that attitude set him up for a fall like this. People aren’t cheerful that Joe’s going through something like this but some are thinking, `See, I told you. Even at mighty blessed Penn State.’
“But I don’t think anyone expected it going wrong to this extent.”
Follow Nancy Armour at http://www.twitter.com/nrarmour
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