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Say it ain't so, Joe

By: Jim Linsdau Placer Herald/News Messenger Sports Editor
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The sports world was rocked recently by the child sex-abuse scandal at Penn State University, and the firing of its legendary coach, Joe Paterno. Like most, I can’t recall a time when Paterno wasn’t the head coach of Nittany Lions’ football. He was not only a giant when it came to winning football, but he was also known as a father-figure to his players. He stressed not only dedication and hard work on the ball field, but in the classroom, as well. “Joe Pa” epitomized coaching integrity. Of course, the jury is still out as to what role Paterno may have actually played in the scandal. All we know for sure is that the court of public opinion decided he didn’t go far enough with whatever information he may have had as to his former defensive coordinator’s alleged activities. If indeed the accusations are true, one would have to wonder why an individual of Paterno’s stature wouldn’t have done more. It’s true a grand jury did not find Paterno guilty of anything, but his implication may well destroy what he accomplished during his 60-plus years of coaching excellence. Is it possible Paterno would have acted more decisively, say 50 years ago? That’s not to say he was willing to turn a blind eye to such behavior in this day and age, but something made him act on the side of caution. Only time will give us that answer. It makes one wonder if we are not too tolerant in certain circles, and steadfastly intolerant in others. Coaches today, especially at the college level, are held responsible for the conduct of players and coaches off the field, as well as on. An example is that of Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel. His players were caught selling Buckeye memorabilia in exchange for tattoos. There have been greater crimes, but Tressel is no longer at OSU. It should be hoped that the majority among us would want to be held to a higher standard. Such is evident at our military academies where mere cheating is grounds for dismissal. Not only that, but knowingly tolerating cheating is also enough to get one expelled. I know; I knew someone who was booted from the Air Force Academy for not reporting what he knew. He had no reason to cheat, his crime was tolerance. Now we have behavioral issues arising from “Occupy Wall Street” that seem to get a pass, although some of it is blatantly criminal. Is it because we hold protesters to a lower standard? Why, because they aren’t playing football? I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. The coaches and athletes I’ve had the pleasure of coming in contact with would make proud the Joe Pa I knew. I can’t speak for them all, but I do know sports are held to that higher standard, and I have yet to be disappointed. Perhaps, in the end, Paterno will have taught us one more lesson; not about doing our best, but why we tolerate otherwise.