By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Notre Dame has always been my favorite college football team. I know—South Side Irish kid gravitating toward the Golden Dome. Weird, right? Being a Cubs fan as well, I guess I’m just a glutton for punishment. But I had secondary favorites as well.
I was the only kid in the neighborhood with an Alabama Starter jacket. Silver, maroon, giant elephant head on the back, BAMA jumping out at you. I was the envy of Beverly tween boys in a sea of bland White Sox and Bears coats.
Penn State was my Big Ten squad then, as well. Mostly it was the uniforms that hooked me. They were badass in their simplicity, and they suited so well what seemed to be the school’s simple, yet effective M.O.—crush you on defense and smash you on offense.
And the leader of that navy and white horde was Joe Paterno. JoePa. There was a ruggedness about him that, combined with those thick glasses, was endearing. He looked very much like my Italian grandfather (“Baffoe” is Italian, by the way. Means “mustache.” Let the jokes flow). JoePa easily became my guy to root for.
In a high school Phys. Ed. Class, my teacher organized a touch football tournament. He was also the biggest JoePa fan I knew. The winning team was to hoist his big ceramic coffee mug shaped into a caricature of JoePa’s head that no student was otherwise allowed to ever touch. It was like the Holy Grail of the awkward adolescent class.
Needless to say, my group of below-average athletes triumphed in the tournament. “Baffoe,” said the teacher sarcastically as he handed me the mug which gleamed in the morning sunlight, “savor this moment.” I raised it high as my teammates stretched and jumped to get a piece of its eternal youth-giving powers. In my excitement I dropped the mug, and tumbled along the grass as jaws dropped and gasps sucked out all the joy of the moment. I was not allowed to touch the JoePa mug again.
As I grew older, I gradually learned of the imperfections of the NCAA and how this was no ideal game of squeaky-clean student-athletes and adults guiding them on the right paths of life on and off the field. My biggest problem with pro sports as a kid was the business aspect, and as I slowly learned that college sports were practically no different, I gravitated toward the pro games because I figured at least they were not pretending to be something they were not.
But despite the SMU documentaries and players not attending classes and coaches taking on more the role of Bishop Don “Magic” Juan than Father Flanagan, I still enjoyed college football. There was just no longer any naiveté toward what I was watching.
But financial infidelities come nowhere close to what has come to light in Happy Valley this weekend. I will spare you the disgusting details as they have been slapped all over television, radio, and the internet already, and I would really prefer not to type them.
There is no proper punishment for the alleged acts committed by former Penn St. defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. Neither on this earth nor beyond. Hell would be too kind, no torture equal to the misery he inflicted.
But behind this dark cloud sits Paterno. We know that when the allegations of what Sandusky did were brought to the head coach, Paterno informed his athletic director as he should have and was required to. But that was all he did. And that silence is too damn deafening.
As a teacher, I am required by law and school policy to immediately report any sliver of suspected abuse against one of my students by any adult inside or outside the building. Fortunately, I have yet to encounter such a situation, though I know that in this sad world we live in, the specter looms. Surely I have taught abused students without knowing their situations, and surely I will have abused students in the future whose situations will go under my radar. I hate that fact with all my being, but it is one that I have learned to accept as the downside of my vocation.
Paterno failed in his role as coach, teacher, mentor, and responsible adult when he took no further action on Sandusky legally, even keeping Sandusky on staff after learning of the terrible things the assistant coach had done.
“The Program” came before what is right, as has long been the case in college sports. Only this time the circumstances went beyond a kid getting a car or having his girlfriend take a test for him.
A monster was allowed to do its dirty work for the sake of football pretending to be happy in the Valley. Others share responsibility, surely, but Paterno is Penn State, and as Penn State is now reaping the shame it has sewn, so should the head coach.
He should never coach another athletic event. He should retire immediately. He should beg forgiveness from every child, parent, and human being with a soul for aiding in despicable crimes against innocent, vulnerable children.
I hope his 409th career coaching victory is his last, and every single one of them should be overshadowed by what we know now and what he knew for a long time and did not attempt to rectify, even if he followed NCAA rules.
And to those who will defend him or anyone else involved in this sad story, I wish the worst kind of evil on you, beyond the pain that has been brought on Sandusky’s victims and their families. You are the problem as much as Paterno has been.
Paterno did not ask for any of this, I know. But I walked into my role as a mentor to kids not really thinking about such vile and scary aspects of the real world, too. The difference is while they are there and sadly always will be, I would never sit quietly by and let such evil roam free for the sake of “The Program.”
The mug is rolling on the ground, chipped and cracked beyond all recognition. I don’t want to touch it. I want to smash it into a million pieces and burn them and jettison them into space. But I can’t, and neither can those kids who trusted adults—as they should have—and experienced the worst in humanity and who will be scarred for life.
Go away, JoePa, and go to hell.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa and Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @Ten_Foot_Midget , but please don’t follow him in real life. He grew up in Chicago’s Beverly To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.