Without Paterno and in shadow of scandal, the game goes on at Penn State

A Penn State fans show their support as the team arrives at Beaver Stadium before the start of the Penn State – Nebraska NCAA football game in State College, Pennsylvania on November 12, 2011. The football head coach Joe Paterno was fired by the college early in the week. UPI/Archie Carpenter

As I type this, the seniors on the Penn State football team are being introduced for their final home game. Senior Day is always an emotional experience, as a four or five year journey comes to an end. But this Senior Day is unlike any other we’ve ever seen.

If you allow yourself, for just a brief second, to think about what these kids have gone through in the last week, it’s mind-boggling that they’re about to play a football game. They just lost their coach in an unimaginable way, as Joe Paterno was fired on Wednesday night for his inaction in regards to the child sex scandal surrounding his former defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky.

The psyche of these players is the collateral damage of a scandal that goes so far beyond football, it’s hard to imagine they’re even stepping onto the field today at all.

Paterno’s reputation is also collateral damage, although it’s of his own doing. Every time I begin to feel any sadness over what has become of the legacy of a man who has meant so much to college football, I go back to that inaction, and those thoughts disappear. For what he’s done — or more accurately, what he didn’t do — Paterno deserves to have his reputation tarnished. Any child that was hurt after Paterno had a chance to stop the monster that was Sandusky is a million times more important than any of his 409 wins. They’re a million times more important than his national championship. They’re much bigger than football and the Penn State program.

Of course, they were put aside to help protect all of those things, which is the most disgusting thing I can think of. This scandal is so much worse than the free tattoos, elicit boat trips or even elaborate pay-for-play scandals that the NCAA has cast its eye upon. This one looks to be outside the NCAA’s jurisdiction, and maybe that’s a good thing. For once, the men who were at the center of it all will be punished, and the kids, like those seniors that are walking onto their home field for the final time, will not be. That doesn’t change what has happened or make it better, but in a society that has obviously failed in protecting the kids, it’s a good start.

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