No matter what you do, there’s always someone who will defend you. Serial killers on death row have fan clubs and groupies who want to wed them from prison, people defend sports owners who rob their city and state governments blind for new stadiums under the threat of relocation, and a not insignificant portion of the Penn State fanbase believes that Joe Paterno, who knowingly shielded assistant coach and serial child rapist Jerry Sandusky from justice for the better part of a decade, has gotten a raw deal from the reaction of the media and NCAA since his firing. Looking for a rallying point to their discontent at the treatment of the long-tenured ball coach, and the entire Penn State football program, a group of these people is seeking to raise $300,000 to erect a new statue of JoePa in downtown State College, to replace the statue that was famously removed by the college after the Sandusky story broke.
The idea has predictably been met with outrage and scorn from people whose perspective is a touch less warped by an emotional attachment to an ostensibly amateur football team, but I look at the issue from a slightly different perspective. To me, a new grandiose statue of Joe Paterno in State College would be a wonderful and perfectly fitting testament to the sheer amount of moral depravity that’s inseparable from college sports in general, and college football in particular, today.
Let’s just be blunt: At this point covering up a sexual assault for a player is a resume builder for an aspiring college coach or administrator. One need look no further than Penn State itself where, less than three years after Sandusky’s claims came to light and ended Paterno’s legendary coaching career in the ultimate of disgraces (and brought crippling sanctions on the storied football program to boot), the new head football coach was just implicated in the attempted cover up of a sexual assault by four of his players and the incoming University President was most recently the President of Florida State; where he was ultimately responsible for the university’s possibly illegal inaction with regards to the sexual assault allegations against Jameis Winston. That’s so unbelievable, you’d think The Onion had jumped the shark if they tried to publish it.
But the problem goes well beyond Penn State. In addition to the aforementioned case involving the reigning National Champions and Heisman Trophy winner, in 2010 a 19 year old woman committed suicide after accusing a Notre Dame player of raping her. That player faced no discipline from the university or serious investigation by the local police, and head coach Brian Kelly (who also had a student videographer fall to his death when Kelly insisted on practicing in inclement weather) got a raise after a National Championship game appearance and interest from the NFL. Oh, and Manti Teo’s fake dead girlfriend got approximately 426 times the amount of media coverage as the real dead rape victim. Of course, this is all just the tip of the iceberg of cases that we know about, and there are certainly hundreds more such cases out there that we haven’t heard about.
So I say build a statue for Joe Paterno, put it in the middle of State College, and let it stand as a constant reminder of the NCAA’s appalling record when it comes to handling sexual assault cases, which are now every bit as much a part of the fabric of college football as the marching band. Let it stand as a memorial to Lizzy Seeberg and heaven only knows how many other young women have watched the authorities ignore and cover up heinous crimes against them in the name of protecting athletic programs and championship aspirations. Most of all, let it stand as a reminder that had Sandusky been a quarterback raping college-aged women instead of a former coach victimizing minor boys, Joe Paterno would still be recognized as the winningest coach in college football history, Penn State would still have a full cadre of scholarships to offer new recruits, and the original statue would still be standing proudly on the Penn State campus.