We at MrSEC.com have pretty much steered clear of the Joe Paterno/Penn State mess because — thankfully — it was not an SEC scandal. And while it might be a story that’s generated pageviews by the zillions for anyone who’s written about it, we’ve not gone down that road.
We still aren’t. Whether or not statues should be taken down or death penalties handed out in the case of Penn State is not at the crux of this short post. Nope. Instead, we simply wanted to say it’s time to stop putting up statues of living players and coaches in the first place.
The SEC is currently in the middle of a statue war. From Florida to Auburn to Alabama and beyond, schools are racing to erect statues of their coaches — like current championship winner Nick Saban at Alabama — and their past Heisman winners — like Cam Newton and Steve Spurrier at Auburn and Florida. Many of the men being honored are still alive. And they are all mere mortals. That means these men likely already have some skeletons in their closets and plenty of time left on this earth to create a few more.
The name Paterno was once revered. To speak it evoked the ideas of dignity, morality and leadership.
That should have never been the case. Paterno coached a football team. He didn’t cure cancer or dedicate his life to feeding the hungry. He decided whether a play should be run to the right or to the left. He decided which player to sign and which player to cut.
It’s time to stop deifying players and coaches for their exploits and accomplishments on a football field or a basketball court. These folks aren’t saints. Even those who seem saintly — like Mark Richt and Danny Wuerffel, for example — would likely be quick to tell you that they’ve got a several sins on their resumes, too.
We all do. Even coaches and players.
Fans and the media are to blame for all of this, of course. Fans because many of them love, worship and adore anyone who’s ever scored a touchdown or sunk a basket for Hometown U. The media because we love to build folks up… if only so we can tear them down later.
The name Paterno will now be associated with his greatest failure. All of the thousands of players he impacted in a positive way and the millions of dollars he brought into his university will be forgotten. Might as well have never happened. PATERNO = BAD from now on.
But before the Jerry Sandusky issue came to light, the media held up Paterno as the perfect example of all a man should be. Well, in some ways that was true. All men are flawed. Hideously, horribly flawed. Capable of doing awful or stupid things. Often both. Paterno turned out to be the perfect example of a man after all, right down to his flaws and failings.
It’s time for the media to stop glorifying coaches and athletes as being anything more than just great coaches and athletes. At least while they’re still walking and talking. Living legends have a way of disappointing. Best to honor, praise and idolize those who’ve already shuffled off this mortal coil.
The Roman Catholic Church only beatifies people after they’ve died. Wise move. Fans and media should take note and stop trying to deify people who simply played or coached a game.
And schools should stop putting up statues of leaving, breathing ex-jocks. Just ask the folks at Penn State today.