By Tim Marcin
Elm Sports Editor
It’s a sad day in Happy Valley. As I’m writing this article Joe Paterno has announced that he will step down as Penn State’s head football coach. He may even be forced out by the Board of Trustees before that. JoePa has been a fixture at Penn State for 61 years, and has become less of a person and more of a god around State College. Yet, even he could not escape scandal. As a matter of fact, his scandal may be the worst in recent memory for the sports world. Penn State was rocked by allegations that a former assistant coach sexually abused young children, and that Paterno only reported to his Athletic Director, not the police or other proper authorities. Why is it that our heroes, our most beloved figures, always seem to fall?
These days there just isn’t any room for error. We like to put our sports figures on pedestals. When someone sits up so high, there is only one way for them to go. In this day and age, the slightest slip up is on TMZ’s website within minutes of it happening. Paterno built his career on honesty and integrity but one mistake is all it takes. His legacy is forever tarnished, scarred by this scandal that will not go away any time soon. Paterno is not the only one however. Think of Michael Vick, Michael Phelps, Pete Carroll, Reggie Bush, Cam Newton, Brett Favre, Kobe Bryant, Josh Hamilton, and countless others. Most, if not all of our current athletic heroes have been involved something less than reputable.
Think about our national obsession with Tim Tebow. Why does everyone care? Why does half of the nation root for him obsessively, while the other half roots against him obsessively? Tebow is a vision of morality: the pleasant church-going boy next door who is impossible to corrupt. Those who root for him believe there can still be a moral American sports hero. Those who root against, do not. Simply put fans seem either overly optimistic, or far too jaded.
I find myself somewhere square in the middle of these two extremes. I want to believe that our sports heroes can be morally sound. Yet, I often find myself waiting for theother shoe to drop. I root for Tim Tebow, and hope he never slips up like most athletes do, but I cannot escape the feeling that eventually he will let us down.
When the news broke that Paterno did not handle the situation as best he could, I found myself genuinely sad. As a Penn State fan, JoePa is more than just a football coach. He is an image, a model citizen, a pillar of integrity. He is from the old times, when men were men—when people acted with moral courage. Yet when this scandal presented itself to him, he slipped. In a selfish manner, I wish Paterno could have handled it better. I want to believe in people, but it seems that with the fame of modern sports comes the arrogance of modern sports. People begin to feel untouchable, like the real world cannot reach them. In the ugliest fashion possible that fact has shown itself at Penn State. Joe Paterno and the other Penn State officials turned a blind eye to a man whom allegedly abused children in the worst possible way. As a fan of the great JoePa, it leaves me disappointed. But perhaps more importantly, as a human being, it leaves me disgusted.
The egregious nature of this offense and the unexpectedness of it are shocking. For me, this seems to be the turning point in my mindset as a fan. While I want to believe in sports icons as a fan—as a person I have to let them go. As Charles Barkley famously said, “I am not a role model.” I think it is time we stopped treating athletes as such. In a time where any mistake is world news, it is almost unavoidable that athletes will one day be publicly embarrassed by their actions. While Paterno’s offense is particularly hard to forgive, it goes to show that he is indeed human, and humans are inherently flawed.
Earlier in this article, I asked why our beloved figures always seem to fall off of the pedestals on which we place them. Perhaps it is best we throw out the pedestal system all together. Treat athletes and coaches as humans who just happen to be quite blessed in the field of athletics. It will save us all a lot of disappointment.