Friday, July 13, 2012

Absolute Power

by Bill Holmes

The tragic circumstances that have occurred over the past year at Penn State point out once again what happens when a government, company, institution or individual becomes too powerful. Things eventually run amok.  

Penn State was by far the most powerful university in Pennsylvania, maybe the northeast.  Penn State football was probably more powerful than the university.  Joe Paterno was absolutely more powerful than Penn State football.  JoePa was an institution.  He had been the head coach of the Nittany Lions for over 45 years and he has the most wins of any Division I football coach.  

Any time Penn State football was on TV, the announcers gushed about how wonderful JoePa was and how he did things the right way and his integrity and his Christian ideals and blah, blah, blah.  Well apparently child molestation by the coaching staff was not something that was against his impeccable morals.  It wasn't just the TV idiots who gushed about JoePa.  Other coaches, sports writers, ex-players and opponents thought he was wonderful.  I wonder how many of those people actually knew him?  After 45 years it became a cliche to praise him for his dedication and accomplishments.  As it turns out his greatest accomplishment was just longevity.

This is not meant as an "I told you so" article.  But...  A few years ago I began thinking that Paterno was staying around past his expiration date.  Bobby Bowden was approaching the same category.  I think both hung on too long.  I don't know if it was to set the win record, ego, hang on to power or just stubbornness.  These once great coaches began to field mediocre teams.  FSU did replace Bowden.  Not gracefully and not without controversy.  Penn State tried too, but JoePa and his legions resisted and won out.  I thought it was arrogant and selfish for Paterno to continue at age 85 despite injuries and sicknesses that prevented him from being a full time head coach.

Paterno was probably already the most powerful man in Pennsylvania before the coup and was definitely top dog afterwards.  Let no university president, board, athletic director or anyone else question anything about the Penn State football program.

According to the Freeh Report, the Jerry Sandusky "problem" was ignored or covered up for 14 years within the university and particularly the football program.  The reason - they feared the bad publicity that might occur if Sandusky's behavior was revealed.  Translate that as fear that they may miss out on a five star football recruit or a huge donation to build another weight room or maybe fund a 15 foot statue of JoePa.  

I can easily overlook a coach's or university's error when it comes to many NCAA violations. Those rules are mostly more evidence of an organization that has too much power and no oversight.  An unsanctioned t-shirt or extra phone call pale in the face of child molestation.

As a society we must protect those who can not protect themselves. That includes the physically and mentally challenged, the poor, the sick and absolutely the children.  

Joe Paterno, the football department, the athletic department and Penn State University failed to protect the children so they could continue to enjoy their all-powerful empire.  Shame on all of them.  I hope we go beyond disgrace and punish those involved (and still alive) with prison and/or fines.  Sue Paterno's estate for most of the millions that he earned as Penn State's head coach.  I would also remove him from any Hall of Fame he's in, any honors he earned and remove any statues on campus.  All Pete Rose did was bet on baseball games and he's not allowed into the Hall of Fame or to participate in MLB activities.  No children were harmed by Pete's bets.  Maybe JoePa was an exemplary coach for 30 years, but he was a cover up coach for 14 years. 

No one will ever coach Division I football for 45 years again.  That doesn't mean the same power trip won't occur.  I suspect that Nick Saban has near absolute power at Alabama and Urban Meyer had that power at Florida and now at Ohio State.  Sure there are contract clauses that punish illegal or immoral activities but the head guy has to really step into the very stinky stuff to get called out.

I love college sports, especially football, but the football coach should not be the highest paid or worse, most powerful guy on campus.  It's BS that  the university presidents will decide on the changes to the BCS &/or playoff.  The coaches, athletic directors and TV networks decided that way before they sent it to the presidents.

So, once again we prove that absolute power corrupts even good people.  Unfortunately we continue to bestow near absolute power on some.  This blog is about an athletic department that went wrong but the same applies to many other areas of our life.  Will we ever learn?  Probably not - success feels good and short or long term memory is not our strong suite.


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