A Few Random Thoughts

Some scattered ideas I’ve had recently.

The owners in the NBA locked out the players because they weren’t making as much money as they would like to; they claim in fact that they’re losing money.  This is not the players’ fault; their income is locked, and so it must be the case that the owners are spending too much somewhere else.  It’s even unclear that the owners are really losing money when you consider everything that goes into owning a team, like the benefit from selling the team and benefits to other businesses.  But here’s something we do know for a fact: many NBA players are broke within years of leaving the league; a decent number are broke immediately.  Obviously players’ costs are too high.  Shouldn’t the players complain they aren’t making enough?  Players’ costs aren’t the owners’ fault, but we just said the vice versa is also true and that didn’t stop the owners from starting the lockout.  And we know for sure that players are losing money because they have to file for bankruptcy and sell their possessions; they are definitely losing money on the bottom line.  If the owners are losing money and in desperate condition, shouldn’t they be selling their possessions, or at least getting out of the league?

John Clayton picked Jim Harbaugh as his top coach halfway through the season because he’s in a really easy division (I think; I don’t really know what his comment meant).  Is that really the best way to decide who the best coach is?  Harbaugh didn’t lobby to get the 49ers into the NFC West or turn the rest of the division into a mess.  The Texans shouldn’t get extra credit because Peyton Manning got hurt and their division turned into a cakewalk, should they?  If coaches get any credit, it should be for driving their teams well above expectations from before the season.  If we use the Vegas team win over/under lines to index expectation, the best coach would come from perhaps the Bengals (expected 5.5 wins), Packers (11.5 wins), Texans (8.5 wins; probably would have been higher if the extent of Manning’s injury had been more clear), or (oops) the 49ers (7.5 wins).  If the Bengals get to the 11 wins I think they might, I would lean that way even if the 49ers get to 12 or 13 wins because the Bengals will have gotten there in a much tougher division.  I would also give the Packers a look even though they were expected to be good, because going 14-2 or 15-1 is possible and it’s hard to move up that much when expectations are already high.

I have to admit I’m sympathetic for Joe Paterno.  It isn’t because I don’t think he made a mistake, but because he is taking all the flak and no one appears to have much sympathy for the position he was in.  There’s a list of people who made mistakes of omission in this case, and they are all presumably paying for it, but the only person I’ve heard about in the last three days is Paterno.  I’m not sure that anyone is thinking about the decision that he had to make, either.  From what I understand, a grad student came to his office and said that he saw something happening with Sandusky.  It doesn’t sound like words like ‘rape’ or ‘attack’ were used, and it happened the day before.  The person accused was a long-time friend of Paterno’s, a guy who was a player on his team 30 years earlier, a guy who founded a charity for children.  Even if untrue, allegations about something like child abuse, especially rape, can ruin people forever.  It must have been very hard for Paterno to decide if such a thing could be true, to think about what the right thing to do might be.  He could have decided that he knew his friend and it was obviously a mistake.  He could have confronted Sandusky and asked what happened.  He could have called the police and reported a second-hand story that the witness obviously didn’t follow up on, which could have ruined his friend’s life if untrue.  In the end he told the next level up.

Again, I’m not saying that was the right choice or the best choice; Paterno could have pressed the issue or at least followed up later on with the administration (although I have to say, I would be surprised if they were allowed to tell him anything even if they were following up).  But it must have been a terrible position to be in, and I think it’s a little bit of a shame that many people will now think of Paterno as an enabler and drag him through the mud without taking a second to put themselves in his position.  The other people involved, namely McQueary, Curley, and Schultz, will also be vilified but none are as famous as Paterno and they will likely be forgotten within a year.  Paterno will be talked about as long as people talk about college football, and now those discussions will always be tainted.

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4 Responses to A Few Random Thoughts

  1. Your semi-defense of Paterno seems to ignore an important fact and that is that Paterno has been primarily a manager, rather than a football coach, for some time now. He doesn’t coach either sides of the ball. So if he is even a football coach anymore (which is probably doubtful) then he is a manager. As a manager, it should not matter in what verbiage the assault was described. Paterno’s job is to get to the bottom of it and determine what happened. Unfortunately I think people give Paterno a pass on this issue. Somehow people are willing to believe that a man who is responsible for administering a $50 million business could also somehow be incapable of understanding the nature of the assault or getting to the bottom of it.

    It’s either the case that Paterno is an old man who is no longer in charge of his football program (and presumably hasn’t been in charge for some time) in which case it may make some sense to give him a pass on this sin of omission (under the theory that he’s just an old man, incapable of understanding what happened and also incapable of asking any follow up questions that might lead to a better understanding of the situation) OR it’s the case that he still has all of his mental capacity, and is still running that program.

    Unfortunately for Paterno, in either case his removal as football coach is appropriate. As to the court of public opinion and its future judgment of Paterno, I suspect that his civil/criminal defense may have as much to do with tearing down his legend as any other thing. Things are only likely to get ugglier for JoePa.

    • Alex says:

      Again, not trying to defend Paterno too much here. But he is not a manager; it is not his job to get to the bottom of things. If McQueary had come to him and said one of the assistant coaches was bitching about his paycheck Paterno may or may not have decided to ask more about it, but either way his job is to kick it up to the AD. Paterno was fired and may face future issues because of a moral failure, not a job failure. That was clearly established the day everything came out. Perhaps it should be his job to look into all these things, but it is not. His job is to coach football players, even if he’s mostly been doing that as a figurehead. And, as far as it has to do with what I wrote, I don’t think his position in the program impacts the emotional position he was in.

      • There’s one reading of this situation that supports the notion that it’s a one time error in judgment. There’s another that says that it was an uncomfortable cover up by people who didn’t want to see their own good names tarnished by making public the fact that their national championship teams had been coached by a pedophile.

        I just don’t think the notion that this was a one time error in judgment holds up to reason. I can believe that Paterno et al might have hoped that Sandusky would stop what he was doing. I can’t believe that they didn’t know the exact nature of what happened in 2002, and I can’t believe that they didn’t discuss it together and decide not to do anything about it (even if they hoped that the embarrassment of being caught by McQueery might shame Sandusky into stopping).

        I just don’t find it believable that Paterno’s “superiors” would have, or could have, failed to act without Paterno’s implicit participation. Even when Paterno’s superiors were all out the door on Wednesday morning, he still took it upon himself to tell the Board of Trustee’s how they should conduct their business (see press release). He was not a man who saw himself as having any superiors.

        I can’t believe that Paterno could have had a meeting with Curley, or anyone else that he might have reported the incident to where Paterno wouldn’t have been asked “What do you think we should do about this? This is going to be a problem for the football program that you’ve spent your life building, we want to make sure we know how you want this handled.” Paterno is on one hand painted as a great moral influence in college football, and yet those working closely with Paterno had no problem embarking on a cover up of omission when they knew that this supposedly great moral force was also aware of the allegations. It just doesn’t make sense. The only reasonable explanation is that they had the approval of the great moral force in advance.

        I can’t believe that Paterno could have met with McQueery and not asked McQueery “Wait, tell me again what you saw so that I don’t mistakenly slander a man that I’ve known for 30 years.”

        I can’t believe that Paterno could have seen Sandusky around the PSU facilities and not gone back to his superiors to say “Hey, remember that thing we talked about, is there anything to report?” Just this inconvenient problem for Paterno turns a one time lapse in judgment into a 10 year lapse in judgment.

        Then there’s the issue that all of the same questions that exist around the 2002 incident also exist around the 1998 incident. It just isn’t believable that Paterno could have stayed ignorant of what was happening when he’s the most important person in State College.

        And then there’s the issue that since the allegations have been made public, Paterno has relied on his claim that he didn’t understand what was reported to him in 2002. He has not said that he did his legal duty and that’s all that was required of him. He’s said he didn’t understand what was being reported to him, or didn’t understand its seriousness. That claim doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

        I think what happens is that after you realize that the very narrow interpretation of what Paterno is at Penn State (just a football coach) seems unlikely, you’re left with assuming that he was part of a cover up that probably goes back to at least 1998. He probably wasn’t crazy about being part of this cover up, and he wasn’t covering up his own sins, but he was a party to it nonetheless.

      • reservoirgod says:


        You’re really understating Paterno’s position at Penn State. He placed people on the Board of Trustees. When the Spanier, Schultz & Curley tried to fire him in 2004 he told them, “No.” Those aren’t the actions of someone that’s “just” a football coach. By the accounts of all the Penn State beat reporters (past & present) and JoePa biographers, Paterno was the most powerful person at the University outside of the Board of Trustees and knew everything about the football program just as Barry Switzer indicated. Given those circumstances, it’s not a “failure of omission.” It’s a cover-up and that’s why he was fired.

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