No matter how evil or sinister the crime, efforts to cover it up are equally wrong and deserving of sanctions. Efforts to cover up Watergate brought down a President, and efforts to deny the Saints' Bountygate program earned severe penalties for those doing the covering up. Joe Paterno was proven to have known about Sandusky's offenses and covered them up, so I feel he must be penalized for it. Paterno's silence threw a pall over his accomplishments, but I feel the Penn State hierarchy may have gone overboard to separate themselves from their former coach. For example, pulling down Paterno's statue implies offenses of the sort that prompted the same acts against Saddam Hussein or Lenin. I feel if he were the perpetrator and not Sandusky, pulling down his statue would be appropriate. As it is, it's more style than substance.
One group who wanted the statue pulled down during Paterno's lifetime, and preferably with him underneath, was NFL scouts. Paterno developed a reputation as a righteous rebel who stressed academics and education over football, although some of my former NFL colleagues are giggling today at the fall of a man they thought was a sanctimonious hypocrite. Still, Paterno was revered by a legion of followers, which makes me feel sorry for those innocent and trusting victims.
Former Saints player Rich Mauti was a running back for the Nittany Lions in the mid-1970's and sent his two sons, Patrick and Michael, to play for Paterno. Patrick was a walk-on wide receiver from 2005-09, and Michael is a fifth-year senior linebacker who represented players from this decade in delivering the eulogy at Paterno's funeral in February. When news of the penalties came out Monday, Rich Mauti told Ted Lewis of the Times-Picayune he was too angry and distraught to discuss the subject.
Indeed, a $60 million penalty, loss of 20 scholarships per year and a four-year bowl prohibition will decimate the football program for years, but it also will tarnish the reputation of a respected institution. How much it will hurt enrollment or fund-raising or Penn State's standing as a research institution may not be known for a time. But those likely effects are far worse than the NCAA's additional decision to vacate every Penn State football victory during Sandusky's sordid spree. Sure, it was harsh, but it fit the crime of ignoring an evil that led to more victims being assaulted.
Of course, those untouched by the situation will take the Leno-Letterman approach and pillory the woes of others. An old schoolmate sent me an e-mail Monday: "UK wins the Outback Bowl!" I must admit I did not know what he was talking about until he tied it to Penn State forfeiting all its football victories since 1998. Among those was their 26-14 victory over Kentucky in the January 9, 1999, bowl game. An island of mirth in a sea of mayhem.
Jim Miller's new book, "Where the Water Kept Rising," is now available in local bookstores and at his website: www.JWMillerSports.com