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Sands on Penn State, Coach Paterno issue – Part I

The fallout at Penn State University over the allegations that former football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulted young boys would have been a gigantic story by itself. The institution for generations had a hallowed reputation and the stink rising out of the Sandusky issue will likely forever tarnish Penn State’s legacy. On top of that, the revered, legendary coach, Joe Paterno was fired because of his role in the scenario. The very foundation of Penn State University has been badly shaken. One of the family members, Mike Sands, a leading Bahamian sports administrator, has weighed in. In this special two-part feature. The former Nittany Lion who starred in track at Penn State and also held a wide receiver slot under Coach Paterno, pledges allegiance to his mentor and has some advice for sports leaders.

“It will always be left to interpretation as to what Coach Paterno did and what he should have done once he was told of the incident (alleged rape of a 10-year-old boy by former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky), but I remain convinced that he did what he thought was the right thing at the time. Having had the pleasure of being under his tutelage, I really feel he handled the matter in a manner he thought was the best way.”

So said Bahamas Association of Athletic Associations (BAAA) President Mike Sands in an exclusive interview earlier this week. Sands became one of the finest track performers in the history of the university. He led the track team in the 100, 200 and 400 meters (m). He was decorated as a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Champion and left a sterling competitive legacy at Penn State.

He and a legion of his schoolmates, those who walked the halls of the university before him and after, are feeling distraught over what has happened to Coach Paterno.

In 2002, Paterno was informed of the alleged (rape) incident and did report what he had been told to Athletics Director Tim Curley. While the authorities have determined that when he passed the information on to Curley, his legal obligations were satisfied, the coach has been under heavy criticism for not going further. The general view held by many is that as the head coach, he could have and should have taken a stronger position against Sandusky. Paterno’s fate was determined by the University’s Board of Trustees on Wednesday. Obviously, they feel that the cleaning up process cannot include Paterno at the helm of the football team.

So, into his 46th season with the school as the head of football and his 62nd in total, being the leading NCAA Division I winner at 409, and having led the Nittany Lions to two National Championships (1982 and 1986), Paterno is gone. Coach Paterno wasn’t even allowed to go out with a bit of grace by staying on until the conclusion of the season, as he wanted.

The Board of Trustees did not want that. So, this Saturday when Penn State meets Nebraska, Paterno won’t be patrolling the sidelines. The situation is tumultuous. On Wednesday night, students who wanted the coach to retain his job, protested on campus. Vehicles were overturned and the general scene belied the quality, conservative image that has belonged to the school until now. Sands said the e-mail messages have been streaming in from his “Penn State family members” and all in support of Coach Paterno.

“Well, you know, it’s a sad day in Happy Valley. Schoolmates and friends have been sending lots of e-mails. This is a tough time for the entire Penn State family but I, and a lot of others still have the utmost respect for Coach Paterno based on how we found him to be,” said Sands. “I had the pleasure of coming under Coach Paterno’s tutelage when I joined the football team in 1974. I went out for the team as a wide receiver. All the things that have been said about how he coached and mentored his athletes, about his character in terms of building young people into productive citizens, are true.

“This is a somber time. We in the Penn State family are saddened by what has happened and what is happening, but, we are all ‘Penn State Proud’ and warn against rushing to judgment. Hindsight is always 20-20. Coach Paterno recognized that he should have done more. Me, knowing Coach Paterno, I firmly believe that he thought in his mindset that he was doing the right thing. Given time to reflect, we all recognize and acknowledge that more should have been done.

“I believe though, that the institution will be quite alright. Penn State was founded in 1855 and as far as I know, this is the first time in our storied history something of this magnitude has hit us like this. At the end of the day… and it will take a while for the wounds to heal… but Penn State will bounce back. You know, there used to be a sign over the door of the dressing room. When you went out to go on the field, you saw the sign. It read: ‘When we get to the fourth quarter, we will be alright, we will handle the situation with dignity and grace.’”

Sands admitted however that he felt it was unfortunate that Coach Paterno had to make such an exit from the stage. The saga continues in Happy Valley.

(The second part to this sports feature will be published tomorrow. To respond, kindly contact Fred Sturrup at fredericksturrup@gmail.com)

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