Wineka column: Penn State penalties in perspective

  • Posted: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 12:01 a.m.
    UPDATED: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 2:57 a.m.

SALISBURY — Somewhere at home — who knows where — I have stored away commemorative Coca-Cola bottles celebrating Penn State University’s 1982 national football championship.
The Coke is still in them.
On the back of my lawn tractor, I attached a bumper sticker many years ago that says “Penn State Alumnus on Board.”
At work, there’s a metal Penn State trash can under my desk — the kind featuring the sleek logo of the Nittany Lion.
My bookshelves at home hold at least one biography on late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. My Master Card carries a picture of the Nittany Lion statue on the university campus.
I look at these things differently now. Truth is, I have been for many months, especially since last November when former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was indicted for molesting children and it appeared Penn State officials — maybe even Paterno himself — thought of protecting the football program and institution first, not the victims of Sandusky’s abhorrent behavior.
When the NCAA handed down the harsh penalties against Penn State and its football program Monday, many analysts described the measures as worse than a “death penalty.”
They surely will decimate Penn State football for years, maybe decades, to come.
But believe me, the death penalty for the Penn State community, including alumni, started before Monday and deepened with every news report.
That’s why you saw Penn State so quick to accept the NCAA’s decision, no matter how severe. I felt the same way.
We have been laid open these many months, and maybe what happened Monday is the only way Penn State begins to start over.
Isn’t that always the ultimate goal after a tragedy — moving on?
I’ve already heard Penn State supporters say that too many innocent people are paying the price for the criminal acts — not any on-the-field infractions — of one man long removed from the football program.
But you can’t go there. Too many innocent people also suffered because Penn State football clearly cultivated a culture capable of harboring a pedophile.
You could easily argue that it allowed him to flourish.
It’s why removing the Paterno statue in front of Beaver Stadium was necessary.
It’s why the football wins over the past 14 years had to be vacated.
It’s why the $60 million Penn State will be fined must go toward child abuse victims, prevention and education.
The talking heads on television and radio have been discussing the legacy of Paterno and his football program, once held up as the model for doing things the right way.
I will say this. Joe Paterno was a great football coach who found ways to win while staying within the rules and graduating his players. He strongly supported the academic side of the university, and his football program sustained other sports at the school.
He was easy to worship, as many of us did.
But he was flawed, too, like the rest of us. He and others made horrible mistakes in judgment out of loyalty to the wrong things. They tragically saw them as the right things.
Penn State has suffered many indignities over the past nine months. One of the tougher, more visible ones on the horizon will be its fielding of a sub-par football team.
But I can accept that.
It’s a small price to pay, even with a Penn State Master Card.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or mwineka@salisburypost.com.

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