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Honoring Joe Paterno Saturday Would Have Sent Wrong Message

Many fans felt like Joe Paterno should have been allowed to finish out the season at Penn State, or at least be given one last home game. However, in light of the awful felony charges facing Jerry Sandusky, that would have been irresponsible.

The news of the sexual abuse scandal against former Penn St. defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky rocked the college football world and has quickly spiraled into one of the most damning controversies that the sport has ever seen. 

Suddenly, it seems that pay for play and free tattoo's don't seem like such a big deal.  Ultimately in situations like this, there's almost always collateral damage when it comes to making sure that any and all people who are even perceived to have been involved.  That was the case last night when the legendary Joe Paterno was relieved of his duties as the head coach at the University after 46 consecutive years on the job.  He wasn't let go for any criminal wrong doing, he was let go for failing to do the right thing morally. 

Had Paterno immediately gone to the police after being alerted by his graduate assistant coach about the transgressions, he may still be the coach today.  Instead, he chose to do the bare minimum and simply inform his boss about what he had been told and left it that.  No follow up questions, no inquiry as to why Sandusky was still on campus despite the allegations, he simply passed the buck.

Rather than get into the nauseating details of what Sandusky did and what should end up happening to him should he be found guilty (suffice it to say that a chair and 50,000+ volts would be involved), I'd rather discuss the reaction to the events of last night by the local media and the student body.

For those unaware, State College, PA is in a very rural area of central Pennsylvania, nearly four hours west of Philadelphia and three hours east of Pittsburgh.  The folks at Penn St. live in their own little bubble, almost blissfully unaware of the realities of the outside world.  Joe Paterno was held up as the greatest hero in the world in Happy Valley and could have run for mayor at anytime he chose.  His reputation of molding and raising kids into adults, graduating his players, and keeping his program clean speaks for it self.  So, when news broke of his dismissal from the job, the reaction from the local media and the community at large was first of shock and then outrage.  During a hastily arranged press conference of the Board of Trustees at the University, the local media assaulted the board members with questions about whether or not it was "fair" to fire a man who had been at his job as long as Paterno.  Meanwhile, outside the students mobilized in a bizarre riot/protest of the move that saw television trucks flipped over and obscenities flung in the direction of the riot police and anyone within ear shot.

Watching the scene from outside the bubble of the central Pennsylvania campus, it was disturbing. The idea that the students would be flipping cars in support of Paterno and the local media questioning whether it was fair to fire the man seemed to be ignoring the fact that the victims in this, the 10 year old boy and others, were being forgotten. And that is why the Board did the right thing in letting Paterno go now.

In no way should he have been allowed to coach the Nittany Lions final home game this Saturday against Nebraska.  The game would have been the final one at Beaver Stadium for the legendary Paterno (who preemptively announced his retirement earlier this week), and would have touched off an outpouring of love and support that, to a nation television audience, would have seemed like a celebration at the expense of these children who were abused by a man who disturbingly remained on campus up until a week ago.  I can say without hesitation that is NOT a message that Penn St. wants to send in front of a huge audience in light of what has gone on.  In fact, if the school is smart, there will be absolutely no mention of Paterno anywhere in the stadium Saturday, signs bearing his likeness should be confiscated, and any show of support by the students should be prevented by security.  Ideally, given the students idiotic behavior, they wouldn't be allowed to attend the game on Saturday.  Voicing your displeasure is one thing, but flipping over cars and setting fires is not considered "peaceful assembly", and the response of the University should reflect that.

ESPN will have coverage of the Penn St./Nebraska game and I'm curious to see how they handle the broadcast. Under no circumstances should this be any type of a celebration of Paterno's career or his life.  The window to do that has come and gone and will seem only to be in bad taste.  The sole focus of the broadcast should be on the football field and any mention of Paterno should be in connection to the scandal.  The legendary coach will get his send off moment somewhere down the line, but Saturday is not the time.