Everyone has heard about what's going on at Penn State. On Tuesday, the university cancelled Joe Paterno's weekly press conference when it became clear that the media was going to (rightfully) approach the coach like a pack of wolves. He is one of the most powerful and respected coaches in college athletics, but it appears his legacy will be forever tarnished because of his lack of action on the charges against his longtime assistant.
What we're seeing in Happy Valley is the latest in a long line of ridiculously naive actions by individuals that have hid behind the lie of process.
Earlier in the year, Ohio State's head football coach, Jim Tressel, was relieved of his duties after there was evidence that he wasn't honest with the NCAA about some of his players. There were issues with players that, allegedly, Tressel knew about and failed to properly report to the NCAA and the university. Why is Tressel unemployed? Based on his comments between the Buckeyes' bowl game and his termination, he believed he was following "the appropriate course of action." And that process somehow involved lying to his employer and the NCAA.
Was Tressel's inability to appropriately process a federal investigation on the same level as what is going on at Penn State? Hell no! Free tattoos are nowhere close to the same as raping children.
But the actions taken by Tressel and Paterno when given delicate, important, deal-breaking information are too similar. And too common.
When did "tell someone else and stick your head in the sand" become an ethical option?
There are programs all over the NCAA that are being put on probation while coaches claim to be above reproach. Pete Carroll bailed on USC before probation hit their football program. John Calipari has now left two universities in ruins, and vacated more wins than many active coaches have "really" achieved. And yet both claimed to know nothing of the so-called infractions, or the damage they might cause their universities. Again, they let the "process" take its course.
Go ahead and call me an idealist. I'll take it. But I played college football and went through, albeit on a much, MUCH smaller scale, a recruiting process. And I have two sons that might, God-willing, be recruited to play a sport at the college level. How are parents supposed to look any coach in the eye and believe the sales presentation called recruiting now that two coaches who, 12 months ago, were considered among the most honorable in their profession will be unemployed because they failed to handle the truth?
Here's a novel idea: do the right thing.
If someone broke the law, tell someone. I'm not naive enough to think that there isn't a legal process that needs to work itself out when something like what happened at Penn St. takes place. But not telling the proper authorities (read: legal, not university)? And thinking, somehow, that was an acceptable course of action?
There is only one thing that Tressel, Carroll, Calipari and Paterno have in common: their inability to do the right thing. The degree to which any of the four will publicly admit to knowing anything differs from one coach to the next, but each had illegal actions taking place under their watch and they failed to take appropriate action.
The biggest difference between Paterno and the other three names is that Paterno is a Hall of Famer. Watching Matt Millen break down on Sportscenter was awful, because clearly he was forced to digest his world view being shattered in front of a live television audience. There aren't many individuals that have done as much to help a university as Paterno has for Penn St. But now, all of the millions of dollars he has raised to help that school will be overshadowed. His inability to separate the university and football program from a potential backlash from handling this issue appropriately appears to be what ends his career.
Paterno isn't the first, and, sadly, won't be the last coach to claim he didn't know better then concealing information. He isn't the only coach to claim that he was taking what he believed to be the proper course of action while neglecting the ethical, moral route. As long as vital information is allowed to matriculate its way up, or down, a food chain before reaching the right ears, there will continue to be scandals, individuals embarrassed and legacies destroyed because the "process" is broken.
At some point, doing the right thing will need to come back to being what coaches believe to be the proper course of action.