Perspectives from a Penn State fan, and Syracuse native

15 Jan

When it comes to the allegations facing Penn State football and Syracuse basketball I have one question: what exactly are we talking about? Since I bleed blue and white, but inherited the bleeding of Orange fans, I thought I would take the time and opportunity to try to properly answer this question.

I am, as the title of my article cleverly states, first – and most importantly – a Penn State football fan. Second, I am Syracuse native. For the first twenty-two years of my life there have been only two men leading the programs in question: Joe Paterno of Penn State football, and Jim Boeheim of Syracuse basketball.

I don’t believe that I can answer my question with one single answer. There are just too many different aspects to cover – the alleged victims and their alleged abusers, victim abuse panels, fans of each team, supporters of both head coaches, and haters of Jerry Sandusky, Mike McQueary and Bernie Fine.

Honestly, the list can just go on – and on – and on. That’s what I think makes things surrounding these situations so complicated. Who can we believe?

I will be the first to admit that the time period since November 2011 has been one of the most disturbing in my short life. With that said, I only expect it to get worse in the months ahead. That doesn’t seem to be a great omen for either Nittany Lion or Orange fans.

We as Americans live in a knee-jerk reaction society that is filled with social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. I have an account for both, so I am part of that culture. Add to that the “media” who can blog faster than they can write a well, articulated article, and a lot of what has been written over the past couple of months has been written out of pure emotion.

What’s wrong with the media being emotional when it comes to these allegations? It does not allow for impartial judgment. Without impartial judgment, which is part of the media’s j-o-b, things can quickly get a bit out of hand.

Isn’t it funny how much of an effect the media can have? They can break down superstars just as fast as they built them up. In the case of Paterno and Boeheim, they can ruin foundations that have been built for decades.

Since day one I have not advocated for Boeheim to be fired because Paterno already has been. However, since the allegations at Syracuse University came out, I have been consistent in saying that if someone wanted to make the argument that Boeheim should be fired because the actions occurred “under his watch”, then I wouldn’t argue that. Both programs were the responsibility of each respective coach, and both failed to uphold the integrity of their programs that they have had for so many years now.

For a time I believed that, eventually, Boeheim would be rendered the same verdict as Paterno. I believed that both men would have been fired now for different reasons – but to serve the same purpose. I no longer believe that Boeheim is going to be fired – more on this later.

Now, I’m not starting some kind of conspiracy against either coach. What I’m saying is all based on the facts that every person in the world has available to them. Some day soon there may be others, and the process may begin all over again. I hope it doesn’t. But it very well could. Until then, these are the two men we have to focus on in order to change the culture.

This is one of my observations: Syracuse fans want the Bernie Fine allegations to be unfounded, or for there to be no disciplinary actions against Jim Boeheim. Or they want there to be a combination of both, because they want to separate themselves from the Penn State scandal. Penn State fans want the complete opposite because they don’t want to feel like they are alone.

These thoughts and actions lead to the media degrading, except for two incidents, great universities. For example, Michelle Beadle, a co-anchor for SportsNation on ESPN2, tweeted in November about the disappointment she had in the two “esteemed” universities. I immediately was taken by surprise by this comment. How could she imply that either institution had been degraded because of the actions of a couple sick men?

After I thought about it a little while, I realized she may be right. It goes back to what I was saying before. Obviously, it is unfair to say that these universities are no longer “esteemed” because they produce countless, and I mean countless, men and women who do great things for our society. But without changing the culture in which these esteemed universities are held, then producing the same type of results may not be possible in the future.

Back to Paterno and Boeheim.

It’s clear to me, and to many others, that neither Paterno nor Boeheim will ever be mistaken for the other. I think that’s where the major difference arises in both media and public opinion.

Joe Paterno has always been a father – and more recently, grandfather – figure to so many people throughout his life. He was a football coach, but he was also an educator, and maybe most importantly, a humanitarian – meaning he is subject to the same cruelties of life that we all are. The media believes Paterno should have “done more” because of his track record. The public says, “Yes, look at his track record, and understand he is human.” It may be fair to say that it is the public’s job to keep the peace throughout the world more-so than it is the media’s.

Jim Boeheim is one of those people that rubs many the wrong way mainly because he doesn’t care what you and I think about him. There isn’t anything wrong with that – it’s actually one of my personal philosophies in life. His success as a coach in basketball matches that of Paterno’s in football. Boeheim, much like Paterno, has produced hundreds of professional athletes, many who would be considered even greater individuals with the qualities in life we all aspire to have. The media knew how Boeheim would react to the allegations surrounding his basketball program and longtime associate (Paterno and Sandusky were not close friends either) – with fury and passion. He didn’t disappoint. He even went as far as to initially call the alleged victims liars. The public then became outraged with his behavior when the allegations were found to be more fact than fiction.

That is the blue-print difference between the two situations. As a result of these allegations, there are things both men can do to change both their media and public perceptions.

As long as Joe Paterno is physically well enough to do so, he should continue to do what he has done for so many people over the years. He should continue to inspire. What has happened is done. Not even Joe can change that. Let the record show that Joe Paterno did come down hard in a number of situations. But in the biggest moment of his career, he failed in judgment, and that got him canned.

Side note: the whole process about how the University went about firing JoePa is a different topic for a different time.

Joe Paterno has a statue outside of Beaver Stadium. His impact on people has always been immeasurable, and I think that was clearly seen amidst the Jerry Sandusky allegations. He can still impact people’s lives in a positive way, and knowing Joe’s track record, I think he will be more than happy to accept that responsibility.

Back in November, Penn State held a candlelight vigil – that I was a part of – for the alleged victims outside of campus at Old Main. They have already raised half a million dollars to donate towards child abuse awareness programs in the state of Pennsylvania. The University Joe Paterno helped grow to what it is today, has already taken the lead – it’s up to him if he wants to follow or not.

Jim Boeheim should think about doing the same. Whether he continues to coach at Syracuse or not, he has the ability to influence a great amount of people. Basketball, in the wake of Bernie Fine’s allegations, should be far from his main focus.

Boeheim is a smart man. He is – again, like every single one of us – human, and subject to the cruelties of life. Syracuse University has already fired Bernie Fine, and has taken the initiative to be more competent when it comes to surveillance of the institution as a whole. I believe that Boeheim would be happy to accept the responsibility to help change the culture that has become college institutions, and make them safer for everyone.

Before I finish up, I’d like us all to remember one thing while we also try to grow and better our society.

We are not perfect.

So don’t try and tell me you would have done “more” if you were Joe Paterno. Don’t try and tell me that you would have handled the Bernie Fine allegations with more “class” if you were Jim Boeheim.

The fact is you are not either man. What you are is another non-perfect human being, whether you like it or not.

Given the circumstances that have arisen over the past several weeks, I am proud of the way both Penn State and Syracuse University have handled their respective situations, and how they have already implemented more competent plans for safety of children and teenagers moving forward.

Hopefully, both schools can help build a society throughout the world that makes everyone safer and brings more awareness to child molestation. It begins with the institutions, and continues with Joe Paterno and Jim Boeheim.

Both men inherited different situations, but can serve the same purpose. They can both show the courage that the alleged victims already have, and continue to stand up and fight for changing this monstrous culture.

We can only hope that both men will take the responsibility to be what we all are – human, and subject to the cruelties of life.


UPDATE: Joe Paterno speaks to Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post – his first public interview since being fired as Penn State’s head football coach on the evening of November 9, 2011.


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