Character was lacking at Penn State
I asked Jay Hopson a simple question with profound implications: What kind of person are you?
Lost in the obsession of wins and losses is a head coach’s character and how that coach plans to impact his student-athletes beyond the field or court. Hopson understood this when I asked him that question during an in-depth interview in late June.
“When you cut me open, my biggest concern is the kids,” Hopson said. “You want players to know what’s important in life and where your values should get set. People get caught up in wins and losses, but the core value system is what’s important.”
A coach is measured by wins and losses only in an economic sense. He or she is getting paid to win, and if the program the coach is in charge of isn’t winning, fan interest — and money — is waning. That’s the business aspect of sports, but there’s another aspect that isn’t talked about as much: the character aspect.
If you were to ask any of Joe Paterno’s former players, most, if not all, would say how much of a positive impact Paterno had on them. During his 45-year head coaching tenure at Penn State University, he had the chance to impact countless athletes in a positive manner, which he likely did for most of them.
But it still boils down to a man’s personal character, and recent revelations about the Jerry Sandusky scandal showed that Paterno, and other members of the Penn State faculty, had an appalling lack of it.
According to former FBI director Louis Freeh, who conducted an investigation into the Sandusky matter, Paterno and others “concealed Sandusky’s activities from the Board of Trustees, the University community and authorities.” E-mails also surfaced that Paterno pressured his Penn State colleagues not to report child rape to the authorities.
Just like that, any notions we had about one of college football’s all-time winningest coaches have tumbled like a house of cards. For all the players Paterno was a positive influence to, none of it carries any weight to the general public now.
Some want Penn State to shut down the football program for a year or two. Others want Paterno’s statue outside Beaver Stadium taken down. If it were up to me, I’d probably be in favor of removing the statue, at the very least.
But symbolic gestures like removing the statue or shutting down football are not going to undo the damage done to Sandusky’s victims. The true test of the character of Penn State University will be whether or not the school reaches out to those victims in attempt to make amends for the damage it allowed.
History will look at Paterno in a different light with these revelations. Character does indeed count, and it should have been expected from people like Paterno and his colleagues. It wasn’t there, and now a number of people are scarred for life.
Penn State had a chance to fix its costly errors, to show that those in charge now have the character that their predecessors lacked. All eyes are now on State College, Penn.