Thursday, September 6, 2012

Rewriting history: The national media undercutting of Joe Paterno

Penn State football did well during the final years of the Joe Paterno era, despite what you may read.

What would you say about a college football program that ranked in the Top 10 in winning percentage among BCS conference schools over the past seven years, ahead of Oregon, Georgia and Auburn, among others, and less than 1 percentage point behind mega-powerhouses Oklahoma and Alabama? (See chart at end.)
What about a school that was second in its conference over that span, ahead of Wisconsin and Nebraska, and far ahead of Michigan, Iowa and Michigan State?
Pretty good, eh?
Well, as October flipped over into November last fall, that’s exactly where Penn State stood. Since the start of the 2005 season, PSU was 66-20 (76.7%), with an 8-1 record in 2011 at that juncture. 
But the national media would have you believe the program was a decomposed relic when Joe Paterno was fired. It’s just another insidious component of the relentless media campaign to unfairly slam Paterno due to the abhorrent actions of Jerry Sandusky.
In Paterno’s waning years, the national media will tell you, PSU didn’t:
  • recruit well (despite a stellar class in 2010 and another one in the works for 2012 when the scandal broke),
  • win much (despite the 76.7 win percentage in Paterno’s final seven seasons, better than his career average),
  • develop top players (despite a slew of defensive stars in the NFL right now, and a dozen PSU rookies in NFL camp this fall).
If they can find a way to lampoon the program he left behind, they do, facts be damned. For example, a Sports Illustrated feature story last week on new PSU head coach Bill O’Brien essentially belittled the final chapter of the Paterno coaching era as no more than an insular old man overseeing a crumbling, decrepit former empire.
Among the excerpts:

“For years the Nittany Lions had trained using equipment that hadn’t been cutting edge since Ronald Reagan lived in the White House.”
Translation: The ancient Paterno’s refusal to use modern workout equipment helped cause the decline of the program and stunted player development.
Reality: A plethora of PSU players who trained on that very equipment are excelling in the NFL right now, including Pro Bowl DE Cameron Wake and superstar LBs Tamba Hali, Sean Lee, NaVorro Bowman and Paul Posluszny. Now, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t time for a workout room overhaul, but the equipment certainly didn’t seem to be holding back player development.

“(O’Brien’s) players, many of whom never saw the inside of the (head coach’s) office during the waning years of the Paterno era, are free to enter whenever they wish.’’
Translation: Paterno no longer communicated with his players.
Reality: Paterno may have slowed significantly in his 80s and cut back
in many areas, but there were never indications he was inaccessible to the players.

“O’Brien doesn’t want to be anything but a football coach. He doesn’t want to be an icon. He doesn’t want to perform any Grand Experiment.”
Translation: Paterno’s “Grand Experiment” was self-aggrandizing and provided the smokescreen for someone like Sandusky to do his evil deeds.
Reality: The “Grand Experiment” was, for the most part, a monumental success that perpetuated decades of outstanding scholar-athletes and had absolutely nothing to do with Sandusky sexually abusing children; Sandusky's sickness caused Sandusky's actions. If O’Brien were to match the results of the Grand Experiment, he would be a legend, and deservedly so.

“(O’Brien) knew he needed to pull Penn State out of a time warp and into the 21st century.”
Translation: Modern, enlightened people don’t allow child sex abusers to run rampant, and this football program hadn’t been relevant since the previous century.
Reality: As was detailed in an AP story last week, a very large group of former PSU faculty leaders have lambasted the Freeh Report as the sham it is. It got a few hours' worth of publicity from the national media, then was shelved. There is much more to this tragic story about Sandusky and his heinous actions, and we may never know or understand everything, but one thing is clear: There is more truth fudging than answers in the Freeh Report. Also, Penn State lost one game in both 2005 and 2008, both times on the final play of the game, otherwise the Lions go undefeated both years and probably play for the national title in 2008 (in 2005, the polls favored Texas and USC even if PSU had been unbeaten). So, the 21st century wasn’t going so badly. 


The excerpts from that Sports Illustrated story are standard misleading national media material these days. Ridiculing Paterno is still part and parcel of the national media agenda. Which is so sad for many reasons, one of them being what could have been a really nice story about O’Brien, about the daunting and uncharted challenges he faces, is spoiled by the false, gratuitous cheap shots at Paterno.
But Sports Illustrated is far from alone in maintaining the ongoing fact-twisting and pernicious mud-slinging at Paterno.
Check out this disgusting excerpt from a recent story by Fox Sports' Jen Floyd Engel: 
“This is the overriding problem in college football, even after the NCAA cracked down on Penn State. The programs are too big to fail so people make decisions they might not otherwise. If you are lucky, you are ignoring a player getting paid. If not, well, Paterno is sending you emails asking you to hold off on calling the authorities about a pedophile.”
Woah! Despite the fact there is no evidence anything close to that ever occurred and such a statement is vicious libel, Ms. Engel will suffer no repercussions. In fact, many surely think she was only speaking the truth about a child abuse enabler, such is the level of fact distortion surrounding the Sandusky scandal. (For proof of the public ignorance about the scandal, see
We are immersed in an era when anyone can say virtually anything about Paterno, no matter how outrageous and/or inaccurate, because Sandusky sexually abused a lot of children. It has been that way pretty much since November, and the Freeh Report/NCAA has only exacerbated it.
On this issue, the national media is a collective disgrace. The facts and the truth have been submerged, indefinitely. 

NCAA football records, from 2005 through the end of October, 2011
(BCS conference schools only)
1. Ohio State 83.5% (71-14)
2. LSU 80.5% (70-17)
3. USC 80.2% (69-17)
4. Texas 80.0% (68-17)
5. Virginia Tech 78.9% (71-19)
6. Florida 78.4% (69-19)
7. Oklahoma 77.5% (69-20)
8. Alabama 77.0% (67-20)
9. Penn State 76.7% (66-20)
10. W. Virginia 76.7% (66-20)
11. Oregon 76.5% (65-20)
12. Wisconsin 75.6% (65-21)
13. Auburn 72.1% (62-24)
14. Georgia 70.8% (63-26)

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