The Woman Who Stood Up To Joe Paterno; Omerta, Never Virtue

CNN with “The Woman Who Stood Up to Joe Paterno,” a piece about Vicky Triponey, the former Penn State VP in charge of student discipline who profoundly clashed with Joe Paterno over how players should be punished for off-field infractions.

You should read the whole thing, but I was particularly interested in Paterno’s thinly-veiled misogyny:

“I am very troubled by the manipulative, disrespectful, uncivil and abusive behavior of our football coach,” she wrote. “It is quite shocking what this man — who is idolized by people everywhere — is teaching our students.”

Paterno clearly seemed to resent “meddling” from outsiders, even if Triponey was simply doing her job. She saw the dangers of special treatment that placed football players under a softer standard than other students lived by. She said it wasn’t right. But it was a battle she couldn’t win.

Paterno ridiculed her on a radio show as “that lady in Old Main” who couldn’t possibly know how to handle students because “she didn’t have kids.”

And there’s also this:

And then one day in late 2004, as disciplinary sanctions were being considered against a member of the football team, she received a visit from Paterno’s wife, who had tutored the player.

He’s a good kid, Sue Paterno said. Could they give him a break?

Triponey realized then that she wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Or even Connecticut.

By the next year, 2005, she was battling Paterno himself over who controlled how football players were disciplined. Paterno also chafed over enforcing Penn State’s code of conduct off campus.

Spanier called a meeting at which Paterno angrily dominated the conversation, Triponey recalled. She summarized the meeting in an e-mail to Spanier, Athletic Director Tim Curley and others, complaining that Paterno “is insistent that he knows best how to discipline his players” and that her department should back off.

And, perhaps most tellingly:

Tensions reached the breaking point in 2007 over how to discipline half a dozen players who’d been arrested at a brawl at an off-campus apartment complex. Several students were injured; one beaten unconscious.

Triponey met with Paterno and other university officials half a dozen times, although she preferred to remain neutral as the appeals hearing officer.

At the final meeting, Triponey urged the coach to advise his players to tell the truth. Paterno said angrily that he couldn’t force his players to “rat” on each other since they had to practice and play together. Curley and Spanier backed him up on that point, she said.

That thing about “ratting,”  you caught, that right?  I’m fairly certain Paterno didn’t come across that code of ethics in his celebrated study of Virgil and the Roman classics.  It sounds a lot more like omerta.

Forget that we’re conditioned to expect misogyny and reckless codes of male super-valuation from old men, or the Mafioso codes of silence or the parallels to the Catholic Church’s endless scandals. Over a lifetime, the Brown-educated, Latin-reading Paterno presented as someone fit and wise and cosmopolitan enough to lead the big business of Penn State football, and, over the course of time and through the gross misguidance of others that he did nothing to remedy (and seemingly encouraged), the University itself.

Turns out he hadn’t really been fit for any of these roles since 1998.  Maybe sooner.  I suspect we’ll’ learn more than we ever wanted to know about Joe Paterno in the coming weeks and months.  He can’t defend himself, it’s true.  But he had opportunities before he passed, and he continued lying to everyone, including the community he claimed to love and, most ironic for a life-long student of the classics, himself.

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