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Finger: Was Writing on the Wall with Paterno, Penn State?

Nov 9, 2011, 2:02 PM EDT

As part of "Guest Week" on The700Level, we're joined by CSNPhilly's John Finger, who begs the question as to whether or not the writing was on the wall in regards to what we now know about how the university and its football coach handle institutional crises.

With our fearless leader, Enrico Campitelli Jr., on vacation in an undisclosed location—really, he won’t tell us where he is—we may have some special contributors dropping by The700Level.

Today we’re joined by CSNPhilly’s John Finger. Reexamining multiple incidents involving the Penn State football team in 2007, Finger begs the question as to whether or not the writing was on the wall in regards to what we now know about how the university and its football coach collectively handle institutional crises…

Note: West of Philadelphia is a large land mass called Pennsylvania. To most, this region is called “Penn State Country.” To be more succinct, this is Penn State football country and non-citizens of this land act at their own peril.

I grew up in Penn State Country. I have family and friends who are and were Penn State alums, professors, boosters and supporters. As such, Penn State football dominated everyday life during the season. For many, football Saturday’s were the reason for existence. The same went for the annual spring practice game. Typically, Saturday afternoons in this part of the world consisted of women preparing mass quantities of food, drink all while dressed in the appropriate Penn State garb. The men would wear a tasteful Penn State shirt with a pressed pair of khakis and black shoes.

Just like Joe. Hey, it wasn’t just a football game or a happening. Penn State football was life.

And it drove me nuts.

More so, the man at the center of this universe, was impossible to ignore. Joe Paterno was the most well-known and revered man in the Commonwealth. He gave speeches to introduce presidents and he was the star. If he went to a basketball game, people watched him. People fought in bookstores in order to buy copies of his autobiography or life-sized poster cutouts.

Paterno was a moral arbiter for a lot of folks in Penn State Country and a compass of what was right and wrong. Paterno, in Penn State Country, was the cult of personality personified.

And it was all a lie.

As it has played out, Paterno is not very much different from the Jackie Sherrills or Barry Switzers he railed against. When push comes to shove, Paterno will always protect his own no matter what the cost.

The following story was written on Oct. 19, 2007 during a period where Paterno’s players were being arrested for sexual assault, fighting on campus and shooting a crossbow through the dorms. Plus, Paterno had been involved in a road-rage incident on campus.

Little did we know what was going on behind the scenes at Penn State with disgraced former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. Perhaps the handwriting was on the wall? 

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Gotta Go, Joe
Oct. 19, 2007
There was time up there in the hinterlands of Happy Valley when a certain football coach could carry on his business in town with impunity. If there was a professor or another local pinheaded intellectual rolling through stops signs, then by golly, it was up to the football coach to restore order by making the necessary traffic stop.

Anarchy might be a concept that the intellectuals like to discuss and stroke their pointed beards over, but here in the real world anarchy doesn’t get you to a Bowl Game, Poindexter!

After all, whose name is it on the library where they stash all those books the professors love to read and write? It ain’t no philosopher… yeah, that’s right; it’s the football coach, smarty pants.

Better yet, it used to be that the football coach ran that little college town in the same way that Porky used to in that eponymously titled movie from the 1980s. See, Ol’ Porky ran his backwoods town and even had the local law enforcement signed up for duty. In fact, when making the rounds about town, the sheriff and his boys would occasionally come across a few of Porky’s friends who may have had a little too much moonshine and were causing a “disturbance” or something like that.

But rather than take the miscreant to the lockup and run him through all that fingerprinting and photographing rigamarole, the local law would just take the deviant over to Porky’s house to let him deal with it.

Hey, no sense getting worked up over boys just being boys.

Once upon a time the “Porky’s Model” was how it was done up there in Happy Valley. Say a footballer had one too many after practice (or study hall) and decided to fire a crossbow into the dorms. Or, say, he may have teetered over the edge into felony rape and sexual-assault charges … well, the State College PD and the campus cops could have just turned it over to the football coach. No sense getting worked up over it. Let the boss handle it. That’s what he’s here for.

But there’s a big problem nowadays. It seems as if the times have changed up at State. It also seems as if those pinheads in academia and those degenerates in the media have finally started to take that whole “accountability” and “discipline” malarkey the coach always talked about, to heart.

But this time, it just doesn’t apply to tailgating and rooting for Ol’ State to win the big game and letting the boys be boys. Nope, instead they want to know things. Like, for instance, why the football coach won’t tell the taxpayers in the Commonwealth how much his public-subsidized paycheck is for.

How gauche!

Then they want to know just who does the coach think he is when he “gently chided” a woman driver who may or may not have rolled through a stop sign. I mean come on, Coach… you know how those gals are behind the wheel. She was probably putting on her makeup and didn’t see the sign. No wonder her husband was shouting. Cut him some slack, Coach — he has to live with her!

But oddly enough, those vultures want to know why the coach has not discussed the running back who will stand trial for felony rape and sexual-assault charges when the star player allegedly attempted to have sex with a woman sleeping in his apartment.

“What makes this assault different … is that she was punched in the kidney in order to gain compliance,” assistant district attorney Lance Marshall said outside the courthouse. “This case is more unusual than our typical sex assault case” on campus.

Yes, and you want to know what else makes it different? In the first five games of this season, the running back rushed for 302 yards and six touchdowns. It’s a good thing that it’s a star football player from Penn State that stands accused and not a lacrosse player from Duke. Otherwise, the school might cancel the rest of the season and suspend the program.

But something like that would never happen at Penn State, would it? Not with Mr. Clean, Joe Paterno running the show. After all, when asked about the charges levied on his running back, the football coach, understandably, got angry…

At the guy asking the question.

Here’s an excerpt from last Wednesday’s media teleconference:

Question: Bonnie Bernstein reported on ABC’s telecast that you told her Austin Scott was off the team. He’s no longer on the depth chart. What’s his status?

Coach: You want to talk about anybody that we’re playing? I’m not going to talk about it. Austin Scott’s got to work some things out.

Yeah, like trying to stay out of jail,
right?

Meanwhile, when asked if four of his players, who were reportedly involved in an on-campus fight the night after the Iowa game, would see action this weekend, The Coach said: “It depends how well they practice.”

Come on… it was just a fight. It wasn’t like they raped anyone. Sheesh!

Now here’s the thing that gets me: when I was a kid growing up in the so-called Penn State Country, I read the football coach’s biography and was taken with certain aspects of it. Particularly, I was enchanted by parts where Paterno wrote about his youth in Brooklyn and his father’s insistence on education and a strong sense of morality be the focal point of his son’s life. These lessons were drilled into young Paterno everyday not just by his father, Angelo, but also a particular Jesuit Brother who used  to make young Paterno stay late after to school for special assignments in Latin and literature. In fact, it may have been the most interesting section in any jock lit book I have ever read.

It makes me wonder what that old Latin and literature student would think of the tired, old ball coach who hasn’t quite learned that things aren’t the way they used to be.

What would the Jesuits say?

What would Angelo Paterno say?