“The old verities and truths of the heart — love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.” Falling short, aware of imperfection, blaming only himself, Paterno has tried to live these truths. One wonders if Boeheim even grasps them.
Recently, I addressed the scandal wracking Penn State University: Defensive football coach Jerry Sandusky allegedly committed 40 counts of childhood sexual abuse from 1994 to 2009.
According to a grand jury report, in 2002, another coach saw Sandusky having sex with a young boy in the shower. He told head coach Joe Paterno, who told higher-ups, who told the college president. To this day, Penn State cannot say why the presumption of innocence, given a tax cheat or embezzler, was denied the man — Joe Pa — whose name meant “rectitude,” as Sports Illustrated said.
Pilers-on ignore how Paterno built a $10.5-million Penn State Library, endowed a health center, avoided NCAA violations like leprosy, embodied the term “scholar-athlete” and helped an astonishing nine in 10 players graduate. Football’s all-time winningest coach — 409 victories — was also likely its most ennobling. This is the man whom Penn State fired, treating due process as a joke.
Two weeks later, the Nittany Lions’ ancient rival, Syracuse University, commenced a crisis of its own. Legendary basketball coach Jim Boeheim’s longtime chief aide, Bernie Fine, was accused of molesting several ex-Orange ball boys. Since Boeheim became SU head coach in 1976, many have discussed his complexity. We see it here, for better and, mostly, for worse.
Boeheim has buoyed charity, won a national title and could have become rich elsewhere. Instead, he stayed, placing trust in Fine; like Paterno, Sandusky. Boeheim’s initial response to the charges was to defend his friend by saying, “I’ve known Bernie Fine for 50 years.”
This is commendable; loyalty is not a constitutional offense. Then it all began to go wrong as Boeheim began to smear.
First, he called the sex abuse accusers ambulance-chasers, allegedly pining for TV cash. Next, Boeheim said famously, “I’m not Joe Paterno,” as if that were something to brag about. (It is not. In 1992, the NCAA cited booster, recruiting and other violations to put Boeheim’s team on probation. Another difference: Syracuse’s abysmal basketball graduation rate, 23 percent in one six-year study, less than a third of JoePa’s.)
Not content to leave bad enough alone, Boeheim then accused Paterno of a cover-up.
“Somebody didn’t come and tell me Bernie Fine did something, and I’m hiding it,” Boeheim said, ignoring how he doesn’t remotely know what Paterno was told and that JoePa has not been accused of anything. The assault was cold, obtuse and mean.
Adversity can reveal –– not just forge –– character. Paterno reacted to Sandusky’s abuse by looking inward: “I should have done more.” Boeheim responded to Fine’s by sliming people. Ultimately, a bombshell phone call between Fine’s wife and an accuser affirmed abuse, axed Bernie and made Boeheim change his tune: “We will find out what happened on my watch. We don’t know … right now.”
Coach, that was my view toward Paterno, even as you trashed him. Why did you do it? For what?
I disagree with those who say Boeheim should resign. He deserves the same presumption of innocence that he cavalierly denied JoePa. Sadly, a full and fair hearing is now unlikely, since the local district attorney says the statute of limitations has elapsed for Fine’s accusers. Either way, adversity seems to have left Boeheim chastened but unchanged.
“I’ve never worried about my job status,” he boasted as Syracuse Chancellor Nancy Cantor said, “He (Boeheim) is our coach.” Neither addressed why so stunningly few of his players graduate — the ultimate indictment of Boeheim’s or any program.
Perhaps, each should re-read William Faulkner’s 1950 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, hailing “the old verities and truths of the heart — love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.”
Falling short, aware of imperfection, blaming only himself, Paterno has tried to live these truths. One wonders if Boeheim even grasps them.
Curt Smith is the author of 14 books; a former speechwriter to President George H.W. Bush; and host of WXXI Radio’s “Perspectives” in New York. Mr. Smith writes for Gatehouse Media’s Messenger-Post Newspapers. Email email@example.com.