ESPN expose could undo Paterno
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Most college athletic programs like nothing better than for ESPN to visit their campuses. It's an almost certain guarantee of nonstop, slobbering happy talk about the greatness of that particular school and college athletics in general.
But if it's a visit from "Outside The Lines," the ESPN show that often takes a look at the seamy side of sports, well, that's different.
Penn State football received the "Outside The Lines" treatment Sunday, and it made the once-admired program looked like a renegade outfit with its revered coach seemingly out of touch with his team and its players.
The numbers were damning but no more so than the responses from coach Joe Paterno.
The show found that since 2002, 46 Penn State players have been charged with 163 criminal complaints. Forty-five of those complaints resulted in guilty pleas or convictions. Of the 46 players charged, 27 pleaded guilty or were convicted.
More recently, to show the problem is getting worse, 17 players were charged in 2007 with 72 crimes. Nine charges resulted in guilty pleas. The numbers screamed about a lack of control by the coaching staff and a lack of discipline by the players.
The response from Graham Spanier, the university president, was expected. "They're staggering numbers," he said. "They're very high and they shouldn't be that way.
"It's embarrassing to the university."
Professor Paul Clarke, who is vice chairman of the Faculty Senate athletics committee, also had an expected response. "This is really a black mark. It diminishes all of us."
To those who have followed Paterno closely in recent years, his response also was expected.
"I think you've done an awful lot of probing which bothers me that you might be on a witch hunt," he said.
The show focused on in an incident that occurred April 1, 2007. In response to one of their teammates and his girlfriend being involved in an altercation with three Penn State students, a group of football players, about 15, broke into an apartment on campus. Several students were beaten, including some not involved in the original altercation.
According to the show, one student was attacked with a beer bottle, another was struck with a wooden stool, a third was kicked in the face.
According to a report by the Judicial Affairs Department, which is the university's disciplinary arm, one of the football players involved said, "We knew we were going there to beat up people."
As a result of these vicious attacks, which no one on a college campus should expect, four players were temporarily expelled. The expulsions occurred during summer school, thus severely lessening the level of punishment. Additionally, the players were permitted to practice before their period of expulsion expired.
In other words, a whitewash.
Asked about the widely held belief that he has given up day-to-day control of the program, Paterno said, "I have the same hands on that I've always had."
That's quite a statement coming from a coach who freely admits he often works from home.
To prove that he doesn't have control of the program, interviewer Steve Delsohn pointed out to Paterno that in its investigative report of the brawl Judicial Affairs wrote that two players said "all members of the team [were] sent a text message from the head coach threatening to remove them from the team if they came in to Judicial Affairs to speak to its director."
Paterno's response to that attempt to circumvent the judicial process was that he doesn't know how to text message and that "I don't even have a computer."
Clearly, the message came from someone else in authority using Paterno's name without Paterno's permission. On such an important matter, that is grounds for firing. But as near as can be determined, no punishment was handed out and, for certain, no one in authority was fired.
Just another case of a lack of institutional control, which all goes back to Paterno.
The most damning part of Paterno's statement was that the man supposedly overseeing a major football program that produces tens of millions of dollars in revenue and is the face of the university for many followers does not know how to operate a computer.
Michael Haynes, a Penn State standout who was a first-round draft choice of the Chicago Bears in 2003, addressed the issue of problems within the team.
He said: "I think there was a lot of pressure for us to go out and get the blue-chip recruits. The problem with going out and getting the best athlete is that you still have to worry about them being eligible, still got to worry about them going out and partying too much and affecting not only the performance on the field but in practices and really being a cancer for the team."
Asked if this was a problem at Penn State, Paterno said, "Untrue.
"No validity whatsoever. Never ever once did we go that way. We might have made a mistake or two, but there was no deliberate attempt."
Paterno acts as if nothing is wrong other than young men, especially football players, having a tendency to get into trouble.
The show was a damning indictment that had to leave Penn State officials both furious and embarrassed. It also might be all that was needed to push Paterno into retirement after this season, whether that's what he wants to or not.
First Published July 30, 2008 12:00 am