For BOT Reform & Paterno Justice, Radicalism is a Vice
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
Inside the Assembly Room, located in the corner of the basement of the Nittany Lion Inn, I sat listening in disgust as Franco Harris and Anthony Lubrano discussed Joe Paterno and the Board of Trustees with a lively audience of around 150. It was the “Real Talk Press Conference” I was told.
The room was filled with large signs donned with well-known Paterno quotes, and a TV in the center of the room played a highlight reel of Joe Paterno’s greatest hits. Most attendees were part of the recently established group called Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, which has the dual goals of reforming the Board of Trustees and finding “justice” for Joe Paterno.
“Joe Paterno did nothing wrong. He shouldn’t go to the police unless he was 100% sure a crime had been committed!” one man quipped.
“I have evidence that Gary Schultz committed insurance fraud in 2008, and it’s going to come out soon!” another person yelled.
“Why didn’t Penn State go to the Big Ten championship game — was it because of Joe Paterno?” a woman asked.
“The entire board should resign, one by one, in disgrace!” That one got the most applause.
“Can we sue the University?” a sobbing lady inquired.
These are just a few samples of the many ridiculous claims and questions presented by the audience during the conversation that lasted well over two hours.
I must confess–I support their cause, to an extent. I believe the Board of Trustees needs to be significantly reformed, and I encourage the efforts to get fresh faces to run for the three vacancies in the upcoming election. I don’t think Joe Paterno is a saint, but I know he is a great man and that the way the Board of Trustees handled his situation was absolutely disgusting.
I believe that Joe deserved due process. I respect Franco Harris for putting his neck out on the line to stand up for something he believes in and his show of supreme loyalty to his mentor and to his University.
But this is not the way to inspire real change.
I sat there for two hours listening as the crowd aired their grievances. Conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory flooded the room, but Harris and Lubrano just nodded their heads without protest.
Harris received raucous applause when he said, “I want Joe to be reinstated for four games next season, and then hand it over to O’Brien.” No person in their right mind could possibly believe this would be a good idea. Even if you do think reinstating Paterno for next season would be effective, the notion of it is so impractical it’s not even worthy of discussion. And yet, some in the audience gave that idea a standing ovation.
For two hours, nutjob after nutjob took the microphone and embraced the idea of absolutism and conspiracy. The rest of the crowd acted as bobble heads, nodding up and down with each word. Some even threw in an occasional “Yes!” or “That’s right!” as if we were in a Baptist Church.
“[Governor Tom] Corbett is hiding something! It’s just disgraceful!” Head nods. Applause. Repeat.
This type of nonsensical conversation accomplishes nothing and only helps dilute the intellectual value of having such discussions.
What we need are intelligent, articulate leaders with realistic ideas that can inspire public support. We need leaders to understand that the Board of Trustees isn’t evil, just occasionally misguided. We need leaders who can understand that Joe Paterno isn’t perfect, but also that he deserved so much better than an undignified phone call. We need leaders who aren’t afraid to stand up to their supporters if they say something ridiculous. We need leaders who believe in moderation and practicality.
Anthony Lubrano and Franco Harris are good, well-intentioned people. I sat down with Franco for a lengthy interview a couple months ago, and I could sense his undeniable passion for this University. Lubrano is articulate and captivating, and has given so much to Penn State. But Lubrano and Harris are smarter than the people that follow them. They need to drive the debate to plausible ideas, and eliminate the flights of fancy that have no substance.
Believe me, I am as upset with the Board of Trustees and the way Joe Paterno was brought down as anybody. But I am equally upset at my fellow Penn Staters who choose to sensationalize and stray from the facts.
Joe Paterno is never coming back. The Board of Trustees will never disband. The sooner we realize this, the better. Only then can we truly reform this University we all love so much and move on from this tragedy.