Thursday, January 12, 2006

A College Football Legend, a Bunch of Angry Women, and Two Lessons Worth Learning

The day before his Nittany Lions won the Orange Bowl, Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno was asked about accusations that Florida State middle linebacker A.J. Nicholson had sexually assaulted a woman. In answering, Joe said this:

"There's some tough—there's so many people gravitating to these kids. He may not have even known what he was getting into, Nicholson. They knock on the door; somebody may knock on the door; a cute girl knocks on the door. What do you do?

"Geez. I hope—thank God they don't knock on my door because I'd refer them to a couple of other rooms. But that's too bad. You hate to see that. I really do. You like to see a kid end up his football career. He's a heck of a football player, by the way; he's a really good football player. And it's just too bad."

In reaction, Joanne Tosti-Vasey, president of the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Organization of Women, said she was “appalled” and demanded that Penn State can Paterno.

Not a JoePa fan.

At first I figured the story would disappear. Then I saw it on SportsCenter and reminded myself that the folks at ESPN can take a two-second clip of a high school soccer player picking his nose and turn it into a mini-series. So we might as well talk about it.

There is nothing funny about sexual abuse. It’s even less funny when it involves a seriously huge dude imposing himself on a woman. So I don’t know why JoePa felt the need to make a ha-ha. In fact, why does it happen so often that people speaking in public get themselves in trouble by flexing their funny muscles at the exact wrong moment? Remember that time President Bush showed reporters a picture of himself looking under furniture in the Oval Office and said, “Nope, no weapons over there.” See? Not funny. Of course, unlike the President, JoePa often is very funny. But not this time.

"Hey, this guy's even less funny than me!"

Lesson #1: When you speak publicly on tough issues, just say the right thing and shut up.

So I sympathize with Ms. Tosti-Vasey’s frustration at JoePa’s facetious remarks, but I also think it’s clear that she's off-base. It’s clear that the situation upsets Paterno. He’s devoted his life to working with young men—serving not only as a coach, but also as a father figure. Making a bad joke doesn’t make him a bad man.

Also, Ms. Tosti-Vasey is being ridiculous in calling for his dismissal. Does she honestly believe Penn State will fire the 79-year-old legend? Probably not. She probably figures, “To make as much noise as possible, you have to make as much trouble as you can.” The problem is that she’s undermining her understandable anger by making ludicrous demands.

Lesson #2: Don’t hurt your chances of achieving the things that matter by asking for things that don’t.

I think we all know that Joe’s not losing his job over this, but it’s one of those ugly incidences that easily could have been avoided—and should have been.


Ahamed Iqbal said...

If I were in the public eye "No comment" would be a healthy part of my vocabulary.
Joe Pa should have just passed on this one, no good could have come of it.

Andrew Tavani said...


Well written article on a touchy subject.

I didn't think Paterno was trying to be funny with his response. Actually, I thought he had a legitimate point, but he just didn't articulate it well. I think he was trying to say that none of us knows what happened in that room. And it seemed like he was alluding to what Lawrence Taylor divulged during an interview on 60 Minutes a few years back. Taylor and teammates would send hookers to the hotel rooms of opposing players to distract them from getting a proper night's rest before a big game. If that's going on in college football, then that's an entirely different issue. All Paterno seemed to be saying was that anything was possible in this situation. None of us know what really happened. And Nicholson should be innocent until proven guilty. However, the old coach didn't make his answer sensitive enough. I certainly don't think he is endorsing sexual harrassment or abuse.

He shouldn't be fired. All too often these days people are fired for what they SAY and not what they DO. All Paterno did was speak--answering a question asked from him. NOW's attempt at publicly lynching Paterno is grossly misguided and that suggests poor leadership by Joanne Tosti-Vasey. If NOW really wants some justice, than they should wait until A.J. Nicholson pleads guilty or is convicted and go after him.

I don't recall Paterno commiting a crime or even being accused of doing so.

Matt Tavani said...

Why was someone asking Paterno his thoughts on it anyway? It's a dumb question to ask in the first place.

"So, Mr. Paterno... what do you think about the fact that the team you are playing will be missing one of their top players? What do you think about the allegations?"

There is nothing Paterno could offer as a response that would be useful in this situation.

It's a trap. Either the person asked says "There is no room for that kind of behavior", which I agree there isn't, or whatever they say becomes a controversy.

I'm surprised ESPN didn't ask him the question in the first place. Oh, wait- they had all of their resources working on the Rose Bowl as soon as the Fiesta Bowl ended... said...

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