When Joe Paterno, the Penn State football coach, died on January 22nd, his record of 409 wins was the most in the history of major college football. As of yesterday morning – after the NCAA vacated Paterno’s 111 victories between 1998 and 2011 in the wake of Jerry Sandusky’s conviction for child molestation – he had 298. Perhaps only in our culture would the forfeiture of games played long ago be considered “severe” punishment for enabling and then covering up the abuse of young boys. And it’s hard to see what difference it can make. Joe Paterno is beyond caring about his won-loss record. The players are not going to rewrite their memories of the games they played. Nor are the memories of the men who were victimized as boys going to change.
The college football powers had to do something in the wake of the report from former FBI Director Louis Freeh that “Four of the most powerful people at the Pennsylvania State University — President Graham B. Spanier, Senior Vice President-Finance and Business Gary C. Schultz, Athletic Director Timothy M. Curley and Head Football Coach Joseph V. Paterno — failed to protect against a child sex predator harming children for over a decade.”
So perhaps it’s fitting in a sordid kind of way that the punishment for pretending something wasn’t happening over all those years is to decree that games that were actually played were never played at all – to change the history of things that don’t matter because Penn State turned a blind eye to things that mattered desperately.
I am going off into the woods for a few days, so I probably won’t bother you again until next week.