A sad day for 'PhilPa'

Posted: November 17, 2011

WHEN I FIRST became a grandfather, my daughter asked what I wanted my first grandson to call me. "Grandpa" made me feel too old, as did "Pops" and "Gramps."

I finally settled on PhilPa in honor of JoePa - Joe Paterno - a role model for me. I graduated from Penn State in June 1966, a few months before Paterno became head coach. Virtually every fall Saturday since, I am glued to my radio or television listening or watching the Nittany Lions.

What always mattered to me most was the way Penn State maintained a clean, reputable, competitive winning program.

So I have been devastated ever since reading the grand jury indictment of Jerry Sandusky on child abuse and two high-ranking Penn State officials on perjury.

I have struggled to process my thoughts and feelings. I have denied, rationalized, conceptualized, intellectualized. I have been sad, angry, frustrated, dejected, disappointed, any emotion you can think of but happy.

Whether Paterno was legally implicated or not, this was Watergate, the Madoff Ponzi scheme and the Luzerne County judges' "kids for cash" scandal story wrapped into one with a huge Penn State bull's-eye on top.

JoePa was as much an educator as he was a football coach. Now that he's neither, there are lessons to be learned from his downfall.

It's time for university presidents and boards of trustees to reclaim their athletic programs from high-priced coaches, apparel companies, television networks and alumni boosters. Football and basketball have become a huge business, making a mockery of the so-called scholar athlete and undermining the moral integrity of our academic institutions and the presidents and trustees who run them.

Although JoePa could do little wrong in my book, I never thought it was his right to determine how long he should remain as coach. By sticking around too long, a person's identity can become wrapped up in the institution or company he is with. And it soon becomes hard to distinguish one from the other.

Tragically JoePa, now in the twilight of his life, hung on for too long and is now ill-prepared when the only identity he has known as an adult has suddenly been stripped away from him.

The Penn State implosion is a stark reminder to other institutions that try to personify their brand by tying it so closely to an individual. It is a risky business. Humans, even our role models, are just that - human, not gods.

My sister, a fellow Penn Stater, asked me the other day what am I going to tell my grandchildren now that JoePa won't be pacing the sidelines on Saturdays.

When they are older, I will tell them about the importance of having the courage to talk truth to power. But now I will put the lesson in terms they can relate to. I will tell them if they ever see a classmate bullying someone, they have an obligation to tell the bully, even if a friend, to cut it out.

As it turns out, my grandchildren, when they were younger, couldn't pronounce PhilPa very well, so my name became shortened to just Pa.

And I guess right now that's for the better.

Phil Goldsmith was head of the school district in 2000-2001 and was city managing director, 2003-2005.

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