The public argument over whether the NCAA was too harsh, too lenient or just right in punishing Penn State has replaced the argument over whether Penn State should have taken down or left up the statue of Joe Paterno.
What I find so remarkable in the unfolding of the Penn State sex abuse cover-up is the consistency in the decisions reached by both the NCAA and Penn State. They both held one value above all others.
That the NCAA’s decision is all about the Benjamins, Grants, Jacksons, Lincolns and McKinleys is fairly obvious.
The NCAA’s actions constituted a stiff fine, but do not prevent Penn State from doing business in the future, as ending the football program would have. Cleaning out some 13 years of Paterno victories cost no one anything—except the pill of bitter pride for the players and coaches. Thanks to the good fortune of dying quickly and unexpectedly, Joe Paterno never suffered the torments of seeing 13 years of victories and the NCAA record snatched from him because of his own hubris.
The $60 million and loss of bowls and scholarships hampers Penn State, but a “death penalty” would have put thousands of people in Happy Valley out of work and led to a major depression in an area in which college sports, and particular football, is a major industry.
The Penn State decision was also about money. After the revelations that Joe Paterno knew that Sandusky was raping boys on campus and engaged in a cover-up of those horrifying facts, how could the statue of the former saint remain standing?
But why keep the name on the library? It’s simple: Joe Paterno raised the funds that built it, contributing several millions of his own to the project. When people give that kind of money to any charitable or educational institution, there is always a contract. I’m guessing that somewhere there’s a contract in which the name of the library is bestowed upon Paterno. And if there’s no contract, there’s a letter of understanding, or public minutes, a mission statement or something in writing.
Where there’s something in writing, lawyers lurk, and we know what that would mean in the case of the Paterno Library: a long and very ugly law suit in which the public would learn once again of the special circumstances that might give PSU the right to change the name of the building.
In short, the statue is an amusement, but a library is real money. Once a statue is gone, it’s easy to forget it was ever there. But you can’t tear down a library.