All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again. An iconic coach breaching the bounds of human decency. Defiant fans taking to the streets in support. A once sycophantic administration gearing up under fire, forced to consider a previously unthinkable decision. Joe Paterno’s current plight clearly parallels that of another notable leader of men. We’re guessing his present employer won’t be soliciting his opinion.
Bob Knight choked one of his players. He grabbed Neil Reid by the throat in practice. It was merely the most notable manifestation of a decades-long history of physical and verbal abuse of players, administrators, fellow coaches, law enforcement officials and female underlings. Knight’s initial response was denial. When confronted with video evidence, that denial progressed into defiance, justifying his actions with his players were not selling drugs or on the bread line.
Myles Brand, then Indiana president, had submitted to Knight, tolerated his antics and even been thrown out of practice. Brand appointed a committee to investigate the allegations. Despite having his house stormed by 2,000 students and being hung in effigy, he fired Knight. The ever-eloquent Ray Ratto wrote the following:
The end of the Knight era should be as unsightly and acrimonious as possible, with the agony serving as a shining beacon to every other school, every other professional organization, every work environment that this is what happens when you cut too many deals too many times at the expense of too much of your soul.
Of the school, much has already been said, and all of it bad. Backer’s claim that Knight was going to be fired Thursday anyway suggests that Knight had been given three months’ grace to ease into zero tolerance. Typical. The IU brass wouldn’t understand zero tolerance if it hired Stephen Hawking to explain zero and the Dalai Lama to explain tolerance.
Now, they inherit the wind. May it blow them about for years to come, so that they will remember how they spent 29 years propping up the man they fired Sunday for doing pretty much what he’s done for all those 29 years.
The difference for Penn State is the actions are worse, and the administration is equally culpable. Cowardice and passivity are the reason this scandal was permitted to happen. Forming an ad hoc committee is hollow. Someone must have the fortitude to step in front of a microphone and take decisive, potentially unpopular action against an icon.
Joe Paterno decreed when he would retire. Someone at Penn State must retire him.
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