To this day, I've not seen a classier move in sports.
I once sat in the student section of a Pitt-Penn State game at old Pitt Stadium. The Nittany Lions just came off the field after a win and Joe Paterno looked up, getting ready to enter the tunnel. From the stands, trash and spit (yes, spit) were hurled. Surely, he saw it.
So what did he do in the post-game press conference? He lauded Pitt for having great fans without (to my recollection, anyway) a mention of the disgusting scene that he just was a part of.
Want to know a secret? I didn't always hate Penn State.
No, seriously - it's true. Growing up in central Pennsylvania, Penn State is the pro franchise everyone hails. There's the Philadelphia/Pittsburgh split, obviously, but there's no disagreeement when it comes to the Nittany Lions. You're a fan - period.
Now, let's not go crazy - I was never a Penn State fan. But I definitely didn't grow up with the disdain I have for them now. Do I hate Penn State? I don't know, but let's just say I dislike them. And news flash: for all the Penn State folks that say they don't care about Pitt, take a routine stroll into any blue and white message board and you'll see nothing could be farther from the truth. There's a genuine dislike on both sides and while some can tolerate the other side, make no mistake about it - Pitt-Penn State is still a topic of conversation regardless of what anyone says.
So when the Jerry Sandusky story broke, I didn't really know what to think of it. There's the feeling, obviously, that the kids are the true victims. The story is so messed up that it's not even possible (or the right thing to do) to make fun of it. This whole thing didn't just rock an athletic program, but it shook the entire state. Nationally, it will be forgotten about the next time Kim Kardashian gets divorced, Snooki does something outrageous, or when this a 90s wrestler comes out of retirement to fued with ... another 90s wrestler. Fact is, though, this is one of the largest sports stories in Pennsylvania - ever.
Okay, so JoePa, right? How does he let that happen? Your guess is as good as mine. But one thing's for certain - he ain't surviving this. I don't know if he's gone mid-season, but I see a greater chance of me suiting up for Pitt on Friday night in the basketball opener than I do seeing Paterno come back another year.
If we've learned anything from sports and scandal, it's that the sooner you move on the better. Just ask Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire. That's why there has to be swift and immediate action.
So immediate, in fact, that there should be a clearing out before I'm done with this article (Disclaimer: This is being written Tuesday night and he could even be gone by now). Penn State's simply got no choice in this and nothing good can come from it if it drags on. Getting rid of anyone connected isn't going to make it go away, but it will mean that they can turn the corner.
To be honest, I hate how this is ending for Paterno. Not that I necessarily feel sorry for him, but 50+ years of service has to demand better than being forced out on the heels of a scandal. I'm not saying he should be allowed to stay on - what I'm saying is that he's going to be remembered at least in part for this. And on some level, that's unfair.
A word for my Pitt brethren - seriously, think first. Over the days, weeks, months, you're going to have plenty of opportunities to tell that wildly funny (at least to you), but completely inappropriate comment out there about the Nitters, JoePa, and Sandusky. This type of thing could happen anywhere and plenty of things happen like this everyday that go unnoticed.
This isn't a time to use Penn State as an object of ridicule (trust me, there will be plenty of time for that during basketball season).
If this is really it for Paterno, I'll say Happy Trails and wish him well.