Accounts of sexual and other forms of abuse from people in leadership and authority are nothing new, and the church has plenty in its past and in some cases its present that it is still making amends for. However, one of the issues that comes out of dealing with such cases is how does an organization go about rebuilding its reputation?
One of the many ways, and one of the more important ways of accomplishing this is by bringing in new leadership that isn’t connected with the old leadership. This is important in all situations, but even more so when the leadership that was in place at the time the abuse occurred has been in place for a long time. While people who are already in place in the institution may have had very little or nothing to do with the scandal, they are tainted simply by association. However unfair this may be, it doesn’t change the fact that the institutions ability to recover will be hampered in its ability to recover.
This brings me to the following article in Sports Illustrated. It appears that several former players, the named ones being Lavar Arrington, Brandon Short and D.J. Dozier, are upset that the school is hiring a new coach who is not associated with Joe Paterno’s time as head coach. Now, as you read the article, you may notice that it doesn’t say anything specifically about Joe Paterno. The thing is though, Joe Paterno has been part of the Penn State football program for over 60 years. Any former Penn State individual is by default a person connected with the Joe Paterno era.
I realize that Joe Paterno has made a positive impact in the lives of many hundreds of players that have come through Penn State. I also understand that for many of these players that the Jerry Sandusky case is going to forever and perhaps irretrievably damage Paterno’s reputation. Perhaps though, they should remember that when Joe Paterno first join the staff at Penn State, he didn’t do so as a former player, but as someone who had played for and graduated from Brown.
Clearly, if Paterno’s career is any indication, someone from outside the system can come in and have a major impact on the identity of a program. Bill O’Brien may be that person, or he may not, but in bringing him in the wake of the Sanusky allegations, Penn State is offering the school a chance to make a clean break with a sordid element from its past. The unfortunate part is that if former players such as Arrington, Short and Dozier follow through on the threats that they have made, they will end up forcing Penn State to make a clean break from the positive elements of its past as well.
If these players want to see the legacy of Joe Paterno and Penn State rebound and once again thrive, there best move would be to stand behind this decision and to continue to make themselves as visible presence of what it means to be a Penn State alum. There is still much to be written on the Jerry Sandusky scandal and Joe Paterno’s connection to it, but no matter the outcome, abandoning the school that allowed Joe Paterno to create his reputation, is not going to do anything that will benefit Paterno’s legacy in the long run.