In the aftermath of the Penn State sexual abuse scandal, no person has fallen from grace more swiftly than Joe Paterno. First, it was his dismissal late last year from his position as head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions football team– a program that he built into one of the great college powerhouses over the course of 46 years. Then, this weekend his statue was removed from outside Beaver Stadium only 10 days after a report by former FBI director Louis Freeh declared that Paterno was complicit in covering up the abuses by Jerry Sandusky along with other Penn State administrators. Now, this morning the NCAA’s governing body dropped the hammer, vacating Paterno’s 111 wins and bowl victories since 1998 and crippling the football program with harsh sanctions.
In a way, the removal of Paterno’s legacy has overshadowed the story of Sandusky’s crimes. There’s no doubt that Penn State students, alumni, and other supporters are devastated by the sex abuse scandal that has rocked their community. However, the reports and interviews from ESPN and other sources this morning would suggest that the severe punishment meted out by the NCAA against the school and its football program was almost as shocking.
That’s because Paterno wasn’t just the football coach at Penn State. He was Penn State. His so-called “Grand Experiment” to change the nature of athletics; to graduate football players; and to avoid other scandals such as corruption from those seeking to make money off his star players was a standard that other universities could only hope to follow. Now, the Penn State community is struggling to come to terms with what will happen now that the architect of the Grand Experiment has been erased from the school.
Longtime NBC sport anchor Bob Costas joined TimesTalks back in November, shortly after the scandal broke, and made a very clear point about Penn State football, Joe Paterno and his legacy that some supporters simply refuse to acknowledge: