Paterno And The Mini-Fridge

Submitted by Brian on July 12th, 2012 at 3:06 PM


Paterno, fridge, Paterno

This might be off-topic, I don't know, but the release of the Freeh Report on what happened at Penn State does seem like something that I would like to address, especially a day after a letter purportedly from Joe Paterno was released by his family. The passage that jumped out at me was this one:

For over 40 years young men have come to Penn State with the idea that they were going to do something different — they were coming to a place where they would be expected to compete at the highest levels of college football and challenged to get a degree. And they succeeded — during the last 45 years NO ONE has won more games while graduating more players. The men who made that commitment and who gave of themselves to help build the national reputation of what was once a regional school deserve better than to have their hard work and sacrifice dismissed as part of a “football factory,” all in the interests of expediency.

This is what Paterno himself called the "Grand Experiment" over and over, and it reminds me of a guy lugging a refrigerator around Ireland.

His name is Tony Hawks, and he's an English dude who got drunk one night, accepted a bar bet, and proceeded to hitchhike around the circumference of Ireland with a mini-fridge. He wrote a popular book detailing his experiences afterwards, which I read.

His story gets latched onto by a Dublin radio station, which plans a triumphal march to the city center upon Hawks's arrival. This ends up being a sad anti-climax consisting of three people and a confused bagpiper; Hawks goes to a hotel and watches an Irish political debate afterwards. The next day he gets lunch with the radio folk, and what happens when he exits the restaurant has been an oddly persistent thing in my memory:

As I walked out of that restaurant pulling my fridge behind me for the final time, everyone on Gerry's table began applauding politely. Astonishingly, some people on a few of the other tables started to join in. Others looked up to see what was going on, and when they saw me and a fridge, they too joined in, possibly thinking it was somehow expected of them. Soon everyone in the restaurant was applauding, with cheers, whistles, and laughter thrown in for good measure.

I felt great. The anti-climax of yesterday didn't matter anymore. I understood now. Yesterday had been phoney, this was real. Yesterday I had been saying 'Look at me." It hadn't been right and it hadn't really worked, and I should have known that …. Now it was working, and it was working because I was walking humbly out of a restaurant with no airs and graces, affectations or histrionics. The restaurant's diners picked up on this and were offering their spontaneous and unaffected appreciation of someone for whom they had a peculiar nagging respect.

Just lug the damn refrigerator. Stop telling everyone how great of a job you're doing of pulling the refrigerator. Maybe someone will notice, maybe not, but once you start talking about it yourself your self-regard starts chipping away at the core.

If Penn State had not been posited as a Grand Experiment, it's possible that one of the four adult-type substances who could have put Sandusky's second career to a stop a decade before it did would have had more regard for the possibility children would be raped* than for what people would think about them. It's too late for all of them, perpetrator and victims alike, now. But to me the lesson is to shut up about yourself and get on with it. It will help you not make terrible mistakes because you are trying to preserve what people think about you in the face of what you really are.



BONUS AMAZING IRONY SECTION: I've been reading various Penn State boards, which are now riven with debate over how much proofy proof there actually is at this juncture. Quite a lot of people have given up the ghost—a BWI poll about taking down the Paterno statue is running 80-20 in favor—but a few continue to soldier on. Here's an exchange from BSD that is, well…

Just finished the report top to bottom minus all the parts about the Clery act and university and state codes.

I think the 98 investigation heavily, heavily influenced future actions. I think that investigation established to everyone involved that Jerry was not a child molester but rather a man who had boundary issues, the police reports even backed that when they describe his behavior as not that of a predator. Every action they took after that appears to have been normal actions taken with a prestigious former employee, whether it was 2nd Mile support, access to facilities, emeritus status etc, they seemed to feel there was no reason Sandusky should be a liability.

I think that that investigation clouded their judgement of 2001. It seems that there was some telephone affect in place as well but the lack of reconciliation between Paterno/Mike and Schultz/Curley’s statements makes that cloudy. At this point Jerry had been established as a man with boundary issues, not molestation issues and I think in their minds when they heard of another shower incident, they just related it to the same level of importance they thought of the 1998 incident, not a serious one.

by Rogue Nine on Jul 12, 2012 12:22 PM EDT reply   2 recs

Yep, I agree wholeheartedly

It’s called priming. Once we have a preconceived idea about something or someone in our head, it’s nearly impossible to get it out.

A good book that get into this and all sorts of other cool issues is Jonah Lehrer’s book, How We Decide. Most of our decisions are not based on rationality or reasoning, but rather imbedded emotional responses. That can be both good and bad. In this situation, it was obviously bad.

by Echoplexed on Jul 12, 2012 12:28 PM EDT up reply

…it's demanding some self-reflexiveness. Yes. Since I cannot shake 20% of the Penn State fanbase individually, screaming "SNAP OUT OF IT, MAN," I think I will go with "demanding some self-reflexiveness."

SIDE NOTE TO IRONY: One of the more useful ways to cleave the world into halves is to split people into a group A that is suspicious of their own brain and a group B that is not. I'm in the former group, thus all the numbers and systematization and so on. You could add a third group of people who are suspicious of other people's brains but not their own, but they seem like a subset of group B with particularly frustrating arguments. Apparently this is a post in which I dispense personal philosophy unrelated to its relevance.


ALSO: Boiled Sports takes this topic on as well, albeit with less references to underrated cheese.



July 12th, 2012 at 3:14 PM ^

Posted before but hopefully this will get it out of my system.  I liked JoPa when Penn State joined the Big Ten.  But with each passing year, I started wondering.  What man, financially comfortable 50x over, with impeccable legacy, doesn't eventually step aside into his 60's or 70s to allow loyal staff a chance at HC?  Bo stepped aside for Gary Moeller when he believed the time was right.  A class move, rewarding a long time, loyal assistant.  But the way Paterno zealously refused to give up the reins, obviously thinking of no one but himself, led me to begin despising the man as the  years passed.  It told me JoPa was all about JoPa.

In that light, is this report any wonder?  Hardly.  JoPa was all about JoPa. 

Tear that statue down, remove the name from buildings and streets, and if PSU wishes, they can quietly appreciate his work leading their football team by reflecting on record books and watching old videos.  Anything more will stand as a reflection of the crimes that were committed there, where football, and the legacy of an egocentric old man were more important than innocent children.


July 13th, 2012 at 9:22 AM ^

That doesn't make any sense to me. How do you pick your successor if you outlast everyone? And hadn't he already outlasted everyone?

About the only thing that could have prevented him from naming his successor would be if he were forced out after some hideous scandal.

Mr. Yost

July 13th, 2012 at 11:31 AM ^

You want your son or Bradley to be the next head coach...the University President wants to go out of the family and get a Urban Meyer, Greg Schiano, Dan Mullen, Josh McDaniels, Pat Fitzgerald, Kirk Ferentz (all names linked to PSU in the past 5-7 years...and remember they had struggles during that period and there was a LOT of pressure on JoePa to "hang it up") to be the next head coach.

You stay longer than the President and you pick the next head coach.

5-7 years ago when Joe was feeling pressure, this was all the talk.

In fact, it was also when the phrase "coach-in-waiting" became so popular. JoePa was losing more than PSU liked and having health problems and it just seemed time for him to move on. Now he pretty much won that debate and got PSU back near the top over the past 2-3 years, but it wasn't always that way.


But even going back to you questions...

That doesn't make any sense to me. How do you pick your successor if you outlast everyone? And hadn't he already outlasted everyone?

It's easy, if you're a head coach...and you and the President don't see eye-to-eye on the future. If the President goes, it's pretty much your call from there. If you retire first, then the President can hire his/her own head coach without as much backlash.

An no, he hadn't outlasted everyone...Graham Spanier had been there since 1995.


Section 1

July 12th, 2012 at 3:20 PM ^

...that my personal strategy of just pretending, in my own mind, that Penn State is not really part of the Big Ten Conference might not be the best thing...


July 12th, 2012 at 6:54 PM ^

Tear down the Paterno statue if that serves justice somehow, and if there is a punishment of some kind that can be levied against only the management of the entire university, then do so. That would be on top of the hundred of millions that they will likely lose to lawsuits, and rightfully so.

But the football program is not at fault--in fact football has nothing to do with this awful thing, other than the fact that Paterno was a football coach. This was an act of terrible negligence designed to avoid "scandal" and bad things being said about the university. It likely has happened at other businesses, as well. To those arguing for the death penalty answer this please: if the top three executives at XYZ Corporation had been guilty of this, and had all been fired, and one of them had died, would you be arguing to put them out of business? No, because that would harm hundreds of people and jobs who literally had nothing to do with this. That wouldn't be right. Cancelling the football program wouldn't be either.

snarling wolverine

July 12th, 2012 at 9:44 PM ^

But the football program is not at fault--in fact football has nothing to do with this awful thing, other than the fact that Paterno was a football coach.

Nothing to do with this? The whole point of the cover-up was to protect the football program's reputation. They absolutely need to be made an example of so that, going forward, no coach (and certainly no university president) will even consider covering up a heinous criminal associated with the program.

Here's a good article on the topic:


July 13th, 2012 at 1:51 AM ^

Sandusky's crimes were made possible by the culture of the athletic department, and more specifically the football program -- a culture in which janitors were afraid to report what they had seen because they were afraid to be fired if they implicated the DC, a culture which revered a single individual who was unaccountable to, and indeed could influence, his superiors, due in large part to his popularity with the players, students, alumni, etc.

This is textbook lack of institutional control.


July 13th, 2012 at 8:09 AM ^

Why would no other business anywhere be put out of business over this? Any other business would be subject to huge lawsuits, just like PSU. Any other business would be have a torrent of bad publicity and calls for the resignation of everyone involved, just like PSU. And demands for a total makover of how they do business, just like PSU. And then? Nothing, because that is all you can--or should--do.

Even accepting your premise that this was entirely because of the culture of football there--which I don't, simply because the culture of almost every organization causes janitors to fear for their job--that is irrelevant. Making people, hundreds of people, lose their jobs when they had nothing to do with anything wrong--is wrong.


July 13th, 2012 at 11:16 AM ^

Comparing a university athletic program to a business seems like apples and oranges to me. School extracurricular programs are regularly shut down for various reasons, and it's within the NCAA's parameters to do so here.  If anything, this is a better justification than cutting a program for budgetary reasons (which happens regularly, and doesn't seem to result in too much litigation).  


July 13th, 2012 at 12:26 PM ^

Perhaps in a romantic sort of way the football program is not comparable to a business, but as you well know in every real way it is. In fact the entire school (and most big time schools) count on the football program for money, so cutting the program even for a year or two, not only punishes the direct employees who had nothing to do with this, but it also punishes the students of the school, who also had nothing to do with this, the players, who had nothing to do with this, and also punishes all the ancillary businesses around town who count on revenue from football business, again all of whom had nothing to do with this. The football program is big business, and as such it should be handled like we'd handle any other business, which is to say--nothing would happen to that business except what individual consumers decided on their own (apart from the lawsuits and turnover at the top).


July 13th, 2012 at 11:28 AM ^

First, I never said anything like "this was entirely because of the culture of football there" -- I said that the football culture made this possible. I don't think you can argue with that. I, and snarlingwolverine, were reacting to the claim that you made that the football program wasn't at fault and that "there should be no football punishment at all."

I would argue that (1) yes, the football program was at fault and (2) there should be football punishments because there was clear lack of institutional oversight. What those punishments should be is a separate issue.

I'm not comfortable with the argument that the death penalty should be taken off the table because many people in the institution were innocent and shouldn't lose their jobs. I'm sure that's true in most cases where an institution goes off the rails and ceases to exist. I mean, I'd guess that most people that worked for the Second Mile charity were good, hard-working, people who did their best for the kids. But I'm not upset that it is planning to close... it seems like the right thing, doesn't it?


July 13th, 2012 at 12:36 PM ^

I understand why Second Mile will close, and I don't argue against it at all--but I would argue against it if some government entitity were forcing it to close. If PSU voluntarily chose to death penalty themselves, I wouldn't agree with that, but I'd understand it and why they'd choose to do so. There is a difference there IMO. And regarding the football program, I don't think the program is at fault--Paterno and Spanier are. Just like I wouldn't hold XYZ corporation and it's employees at fault for the actions of their fictional CEO in my example, I don't hold any of the other employees/players in the program at fault either.


July 13th, 2012 at 5:21 PM ^

I don't know how you make that distinction. Did you think that Ohio State's program was clean with the exception of Tressel?

I guess I'd just say that Louis Freeh seems not to agree with you, because in the report and in his press conference, he repeatedly emphasized the institutional problems at Penn State, the problems that created an atmosphere that permitted Sandusky to continue his criminal acts and that tried to conceal those acts to the University and to the rest of the community at large.


July 14th, 2012 at 10:35 AM ^

I will hastily add that I don't claim that it's impossible, nor do I want to discount or argue with Freeh. But until people are called onto the stand during a trial, and are under oath, I don't think an investigator's opinion is the same as fact. That's why we have trials, and when the various lawsuits sure to be filed go to trial, then we'll learn more than we know know IMO. And Freeh's opinion still does nothing to discount my point that this awful affair was not unique, in any way, to football, and that there is literally zero dofference in the PSU program and any other business where the CEO could have done this. And absolutely nothing would be done to that business under the law, beyond the lawsuits and bad publicity that PSU will endure. 


July 13th, 2012 at 2:13 PM ^

I think the NCAA issuing PSU the death penalty over this scandal exceeds their charter, but I have no issue with giving Penn State the heave ho from the Big 10 conference.  In my opinion that would be an even harsher punishment.  Toss Penn State out into the cold with their tattered reputation and the lack of conference affiliation to prop them up and the athletic department will disintegrate pretty rapidly.  It doesn't come close to bringing justice to those harmed by Sandusky and the cult of silence at PSU, but it's a good start.


July 12th, 2012 at 3:24 PM ^

And appreciated the link to the Purdue post. Well done by them. Those who say this is not football related are clueless. Not reporting child abuse by your revered DC in 1998 provided a distinct recruiting advantage for Penn State. Imagine what would have happened if the 1998 incident was properly handled. Sandusky gone, recruiting hit and Paterno likely gone as the boss of a pedophile for 30 years, with the abuses in the football facilities. The NCAA must act on this, but well short of the death penalty.


July 12th, 2012 at 6:28 PM ^

Disagree respectfully.  Had it been handled in '98 the right way, Joe Pa doesn't have to resign and wouldn't get fired.  As long as he reported it and put it to a stop the second he found out, then he did the only thing one can do.  

That's the crazy part I don't seem to understand.  What damage are you really doing to your brand by reporting it?  People like Sandusky are statistical outliers that you can't always account for.   There might have been some backlash in the short term, but how can you live with yourself anyway?  Sometimes it's not about "you"; sometimes it's not about "Penn State".


July 12th, 2012 at 4:07 PM ^

I see where you're going with that and I agree for the most part, but Sandusky was part of JoPa's staff, was he not?  This problem, had he been hired instead of Bo, just very well may have followed him here.  WITH JoPa in charge.  Not that Canham would have let it perpetuate, but it could have caused a big problem for UofM.  Dealt with even in the best way, this would have been bad for whichever school was employing them at the time. 

Section 1

July 12th, 2012 at 5:32 PM ^ I am not going to criticize anybody for the [true] reminder that by the accounts of both Canham and Paterno, the Michigan job was offered to Paterno in 1968.

But there is one big difference, and I mean this in all sincerity.

Penn State was basically nothing before Paterno made it a powerhouse.  And Paterno ruled Happy Valley like no Michigan coach could ever dominate Ann Arbor.  Not only is it beyond impossible to speculate that Michigan was oh-so-close to being caught in a Paterno scandal; I'd suggest that it is highly unlikely that Paterno would have been as big a fish, in such a small football pond, as he was in Pennsylvania.  Not for one minute do I believe that Paterno would have had an unquestioned run through decades in the Big Ten, seven or eight University presidents, and six or seven athletic directors in Ann Arbor.


July 12th, 2012 at 5:39 PM ^

Paterno could not have been Paterno, so to speak, at Michigan (or Ohio State, for that matter).  Michigan and OSU didn't need to be built up the way he built up PSU.   Bo is the father of modern Michigan football, and Woody is the father of modern OSU football, but both schools had success on a national state - in football and other arenas - before either man came along. 


July 12th, 2012 at 5:47 PM ^

Not to mention that the geographic location of State College, hours from the state's population centers and surrounded by mountains, contributed to the sense of a community and university inordinately defined by Paterno even as the university grew in prestige.

Urban Warfare

July 13th, 2012 at 1:05 AM ^

More importantly, it isolates it from media who would otherwise be paying much closer attention. 


Fun fact:  When asked about NCAA violations in the football program, Penn State's athletics department cites a secondary violation from 1985 as their most recent.  Anyone think that's actually true? 

Section 1

July 12th, 2012 at 5:51 PM ^

Somebody could actually have corrected me on the notion that "Penn State was nothing before Paterno..."

In fact, they had some notably good years under Rip Engle in the late '50's and early '60's.  Some bowl appearances (as an independent) and a couple of Top-10 finishes.  But even then, who was Rip Engel's assistant?  Since 1950, it was Joe Paterno.


July 12th, 2012 at 5:50 PM ^

...and that's the basic premise I would agree with regarding the original post.  And I completely agree that JoPa wouldn't have had the power in AA that he had in Happy Valley.  I am just saying that Sandusky would have been SOMEone's problem no matter where he went.  I do believe that UM would have handled it right, had it become an issue, which of course it didn't.  Regardless, it would have been..."remember that time when..." no matter where it happened.  

No disagreement with anything you said.


July 12th, 2012 at 3:32 PM ^

The more I hear, the more disgusted I am.   Sandusky obviously has very serious psychological and sociopathic issues to have molested children, but how could at least four, presumably non-sociopathic individuals decide it is ok to cover this up.   I can't wrap my head around this.  Anyone who could still defend Paterno needs to be seriously examined, Curley, Schultz and Spanier also deserve to spend the rest of their lives in jail.  Just think of how many more kids were harmed because of their (in)actions.


July 12th, 2012 at 3:35 PM ^

Brian Cook and MgGoBlog.


Uber alles.


This type of perspective, in the style it is written, keeps me coming back.  You had me at "Paterno and the Mini-fridge."


July 13th, 2012 at 10:52 AM ^

Because it helps us make sense out of our world.  The connection Brian makes between focusing on doing one's job (pulling  the refridgerator) as opposed to focusing on people knowing that you are dong a great job is pure gold.

French West Indian

July 12th, 2012 at 3:43 PM ^

I'm in no way defending Penn State or the dispicable actions of Sandusky, Paterno & Company but it wasn't until today when looking at the report and realizing that it was authored by the firm of Freeh and Sporkin (former federal judges with deep ties to the FBI & CIA) that I recalled there were some squashed rumors of pedophila taking place at the White House.  I don't want to delve into the politics here at Mgoblog other than to say google "Franklin cover up", "White house pedophilia" if curious.

Given that there were some earlier rumors that Sandusky had used his charity to "pimp" young boys, is it not possible that the Freeh report is being used to hammer Penn State & Paterno in an effort to coverup a far more explosive scandal involving prominent Washington figures?  That might explain some of the weirder aspects of this case such as the dead prosecuting attorney, the missing victims of Sandusky, even the bizarre efforts of the PSU brass to keep things under wraps.  Just saying...