Monthly Archives: January 2012

Paterno’s legacy (not his eternity)

I believe in a God whose love is more powerful than the worst of human nature, so I stay out of the guessing game as to who is going to be rewarded in heaven and who is going to face eternal damnation.  I don’t have the theological arrogance to try and guess at that sort of thing.

Joe Paterno died yesterday, and the commentaries, columns, blogs, status updates, and tweets started to pour out.  Some of it has been vitriolic.  Some of it has been too flowery to stomach.  Joe Paterno was a man.  He was a sinner like all of us.  He had some great victories, and some terrible failures.  I would not want to be judged by my worst moments, but I’m not judging him as a man.  I do not venture into that realm.  I am commenting on his legacy – the way in which he is remembered.  His legacy and his eternity are two very different things.

Here are few things I have to start with:

  • God’s grace is offered to all.  I believe in a God of forgiveness, and I do not claim to know the will of God.  I know absolutely nothing about Joe Paterno’s relationship with God – or Jerry Sandusky’s or Mike Mcqueary’s or any of the Penn State board members or any of the former football players that have come to Paterno’s defense.
  • God’s healing is possible for all.  I believe in a God of healing, and I pray that there is healing for all those that are involved.  I pray for the victims, for Sandusky, and for all that have been hurt.  I know that there are a lot of broken hearts, and I hurt for all of them.  I imagine that Joe Paterno has gone through a lot of turmoil these past few weeks, and I take no pleasure in that.  I pray that he may indeed rest in peace, because I believe in the peace of Jesus Christ that surpasses all understanding.
  • Joe Paterno did not molest, rape or harm any child.  Jerry Sandusky is accused of doing those things.  He will get his day in court and face his accusers.  I’ve read some of the testimony, and it looks pretty convincing.  There is little doubt the prime “bad guy” in all of this is Sandusky.
  • We can take a lot of lessons from this tragedy, and one is this: you never know.  Paterno trusted Sandusky.  That trust was obviously mispaced.  I do not blame him for trusting the wrong person.  Any of us can do that.  I blame him for the inaction after he was told the truth.  And to that end, there seems to be plenty of blame to go around.  As I read the timeline of this story, I just wish that one person – ONE – had the courage to address the problems that began to surface in 1994.
  • Another lesson is this: maybe we should stop building up coaches – or anyone for that matter – with so much adoration.  This is something I wrote about in a post called Congratulations Coach.
  • My argument here is about Joe Paterno’s legacy.  Not his eternal salvation, not Sandusky’s innocence, not the the board, or McQueary, or anyone else.  I read the headline of a column that read “Paterno’s legacy outweighs the scandal.”  I disagree, and here’s why:

Joe Paterno built a strong legacy, and it was on the strength of that legacy that Sandusky preyed (I’m going to allow you to insert the word “allegedly” here because it will get tiresome to type it every time.) on children.  Paterno’s legacy gave Sandusky legitimacy.  It gave him access.

Joe Paterno did a lot of amazing things.  I’m sure that I don’t have a full understanding of all of the positive that he did, but that doesn’t matter.  All of the positives, achievements, and good-will that he created gave him credibility and the moral high-ground in almost every matter.  Most people consider him to be the most powerful man at the university – perhaps the most powerful man in the state.  And it was power that he earned.  It was a power that was based on the values he preached.

Joe Paterno wanted to create a football program that was about more than winning.  His “grand experiment” was about melding football, academics and character.  He wanted to mold boys into men and develop leaders.  He preached about things like respect, honor, accountability, and faith.  He wanted to create something that was good, almost holy.  On the surface, that is exactly what he did.  He created a program that was treated as if it was holy – untouchable.  He had the moral high ground.  This article in 2008 talked about how the program seemed bigger than the institution.  And Joe Paterno WAS the program.

Joe Paterno had the moral authority to stop Jerry Sandusky when he was informed about it.  Instead, he abdicated that authority when he was relatively silent when faced with the biggest challenge of his life.  All of his achievements do little more than make his inaction more inexcusable.  Did Jerry Sandusky fail? obviously.  Did Mike McQueary fail? Certainly.  Should he have gone to the police? Of course.  But he was also deeply enmeshed in a culture of cover-up, and he went as high as he could possibly go – to Joe Paterno.  Did the Athletic Direct, President and the Board fail?  Yes.  They were a part of the institutional mess that lacked the courage to do anything detrimental to the football program.  It seems like even the current governor of Pennsylvania failed.  Why? Because no one wanted to cross Joe Pa.

It was only Joe Paterno that could have stopped Jerry Sandusky.  And he failed to do so.  If we believe that Paterno was told about Sandusky in 2002, then there are many questions to ask.  Why was he still hosting football camps on other Penn State campuses?  Why  was Paterno still involved with Sandusky’s Second Mile Foundation?  Jerry Sandusky used the legacy of Joe Paterno to prey on children.  He gained access, trust, and funds because of his relationship with Joe Paterno, and Paterno let it happen.

I do not believe that I am rushing to tarnish his legacy unfairly.  I am judging it only by his own standard.  He once said, “Losing a game is heartbreaking. Losing your sense of excellence or worth is a tragedy.”  It seems to me that Joe Paterno lost his sense of excellence.  That is (by far) not the greatest tragedy of this story, but it is nonetheless the tragedy of Joe Paterno’s legacy.

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Filed under Personal Reflection, Sports

Bears 1st Rounders

ImageJerry Angelo was fired today as the Bears General Manager. You can read all about it on other sources, like ESPN, or the Chicago Tribune, so I won’t go over the details.  I do however, think it was a good move.  I also am glad that they kept Lovie Smith.

His departure got me wondering about the most highly publicized choice that a general manager makes every year – the number one draft pick.  Here are Jerry Angelo’s top draft choices each year:

2002 – Mark Colombo.  A complete bust with the Bears.  After three injury-plagued years he played one game in 2005 before being released.  Since then he has had a respectable career with the Cowboys and now the Dolphins.

2003 – Rex Grossman.  Sexy Rexy defined inconsistency during his Bears tenure.  It seemed like every game was a toss-up whether you’d get “Good Rex” or “Bad Rex.”  In his only full season as a starter, the Bears went to the Super Bowl, but he had more turnovers than touchdowns.

2004 – Tommie Harris.  After three seasons, Harris looked like he could be the dominant defensive lineman in the game.  After Pro Bowl seasons in 2006 and 2007, he kind of disappeared.  In 2011 he bounced from the Colts to the Chargers.

2005 – Cedric Benson.  Angelo decided to keep Benson over Thomas Jones after the Superbowl season of 2006.  He responded with 674 yards rushing in 11 games.  He’s had a decent career with the Bengals.

2006 – No pick

2007 – Greg Olsen.  It seemed like every preseason people said that Greg Olsen was going to have a break out year.  His best year was 2009 with 612 yards receiving and 8 touchdowns. Now he’s a Panther.

2008 – Chris Williams.  Williams is an offensive lineman who had back problems coming out of college and has had back issues as a pro.  He was moved from tackle to guard, and in 2011 he injured his wrist and went on IR.

2009, 2010 – no pick, trade for Jay Cutler

2011 – Gabe Carimi. The lineman from Wisconsin could barely stay on the field this year and ended the season on IR.

Not exactly a great track record.  Exactly 0 of these players finished on the Bears depth chart in 2011.  Three O-lineman with injury problems, an inconsistent QB, a flash in the pan D-lineman, a head case running back and an above average pass-catching tight end that can’t block.  It’s not exactly the stuff championships are made of.

In the same time period the Green Bay Packers first round draft choices have included some busts (i.e. Justin Harrell and Ahmad Carroll).  They have also included a couple of Pro-Bowlers in Javon Walker and Nick Barnett, two solid linebackers in AJ Hawk and Clay Matthews, two good (though currently injured) O-linemen in Bryan Buluga (NFL All-Rookie Team last year) and Derrick Sherrod (actually a little too early to tell if he’s good or not).  And then there was that Aaron Rogers guy.

The Steelers’ drafting in that span included Troy Polamalu (’03), Ben Roethlisberger (’04), Heath Miller (’05), Santonio Holmes (’06), Lawrence Timmons (’07), Rashard Mendenhall (’08), and Maurkice Pouncey (’10).  All of those guys contributed significantly to one or two Superbowl championships.

There was a time of course, when the Bears did draft well.  Check out the Bears’ first round drafts from 1979-1985.  This is what championships are made of:

1979 – Dan Hampton and Al Harris.

1980 – Otis Wilson

1981 – Keith Van Horne

1982 – Jim McMahon

1983 – Willie Gault and Jim Covert

1984 – Wilber Marshall

1985 – William Perry

Hampton is the only Hall of Famer, but Al Harris was the only player that was not a major contributor to the Bears’ last Superbowl championship.

It seems clear that, while there are certainly other factors, the success of a team is hinged largely on the ability to nail that first round pick.  The Packers and Steelers have been doing it a lot lately, and they are two dominant teams in the NFL.  The Bears used to do it on a regular basis and built a perennial power.  Angelo was unable to do it, and today he was fired.

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