By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) At this rate, they might as well just drag the statue out of storage and re-install it.
Joe Paterno may be dead, and thoroughly shamed in the eyes of those outside the haze of State College, but the vocal faction of his lunatic cult lives on, now freshly enabled by Penn State president Rodney Erickson.
No matter that Paterno was behind the active facilitation of a child predator, it seems, as Erickson is still trying to find a way to appease those who don’t mind. Incredibly, he told the Citizen’s Voice the he still hopes he can find a way to honor the former coach.
“There are other aspects that I think time and perspective will have to contribute to those discussions,” he said. “And I would hope that at some point we would be at a place where we can view Joe Paterno’s contributions to the university and the many positive contributions that he made in a way that will unify the Penn State community rather than continue to drive it apart.”
As he speaks, the unfortunate Franco Harris is calling his merry band of kooks to assemble, armed with their psychotic interpretations of accepted facts, trying to redeem the good name of a man who chose to help a monster.
It’s quite the menagerie that will gather Saturday in Pittsburgh: there’s Harris, brandishing his fetishized cardboard-cutout of his idol, there’s marginalized trustee Anthony Lubrano, who was elected to the board to restore Paterno’s glory, only to have his efforts so rudely interrupted by the findings of Louis Freeh’s report. Also at the party are a handful of out-of-work, bottom-feeding media hucksters, confused alums with time on their hands, and saddened hill-folk in team sweatshirts.
Don’t be surprised when Donald Trump pulls up, followed by that rainbow-wig guy, Joe the Plumber, and a face-painted dwarf on a unicycle, wearing a “409” hat and blowing a vuvuzela.
It is baffling why someone in Erickson’s position would provide even the faintest sliver of motivational light to this freak show, when he should be ignoring them entirely. His pandering to the fringe only empowers and legitimizes the festering dregs of a twisted culture of football blindness that allowed the years of horror to occur.
Erickson can’t have it both ways. Either the statue came down for a reason or it didn’t.
He has said the right things about enacting the changes Freeh outlined, and he needs to have the guts to stick to his guns. Even new coach Bill O’Brien sounds more dedicated to understanding what happened and learning the right lessons.
More importantly, the prosecutorial drumbeat grows ever louder. The criminal-trial saga Graham Spanier, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz will drag on, along with the multiple federal investigations still ongoing. There will be more findings, more testimony, and more that should keep sensible people from discussing how Joe Paterno can be honored.
Were he alive, in fact, he’d be charged.
Franco and friends, you’ll notice, are still condemning the Freeh report as lies and guesses, even as the very same information is included in the 59-page grand jury finding, now entered as evidence. The emails, hand-written notes and sworn statements from school lawyers and police have made everything official.
These people are birthers. They are 9/11 “truthers.” They live under rocks and wear tinfoil hats. They will eventually disappear, with most grumbling and muttering madly as they connect on message boards, exchanging all-caps rants. Harris’s bizarre behavior can likely be chalked up to football-related deterioration, and his brain will be in a Boston University bell-jar sooner rather than later, ready to be sliced thinly for examination, like a slab of cold ham at the Wegman’s deli.
They will go away. Their voices will grow fainter over time, as more details of the sickening conspiracy of silence emerge.
Erickson and Penn State University are right to take the long, patient view for what will be many difficult years. The best way to unite his community will be to stand strongly for what is right, and let history swallow what’s not.
Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of Boers and Bernstein since 1999. Read more of Bernstein’s columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein.