Penn State and the Problem With Heroes — Leading Off

On the lighthearted side of that equation this weekend was the debate over Jeremy Lin and the future of Linsanity. Can the Knicks, and their fans, really let him walk? On the darker, far more sobering one: the fate of the Joe Paterno statue at Penn State. Can Paterno’s constituency let that come down?

That touchpoint flowed out of last week’s jarring revelations in the Louis Freeh investigation, the one that painted Paterno as an active member of the Jerry Sandusky cover-up and started a windstorm of rewriting Paterno’s legacy. On Penn State’s campus, that legacy is cast in bronze and now stands for so many different things, we might consider moving it to the Smithsonian to headline an exhibit on how American sports went so far over the wall that molested little boys became roadkill on the superhighway to football glory. For now, the university’s board of trustees has on the matter after that the trustees were leaning toward leaving it in place.

The statue appears to be about the only thing about Paterno’s legacy that isn’t moving. The so-ill-advised halo that used to float over Paterno’s head on a local mural and the news that even as the Sandusky grand jury was unearthing this whole mess puts him in an even more unflattering light. have offered a recast of Paterno’s obituary and heaps some blame on himself for being a part of the machinery that lionized Paterno for so long. , though, that the machinery is so reliant on the moneymaking powers of Penn State football that it can’t be deconstructed, although there are plenty of people — , for one — calling for the N.C.A.A. to do just that with and nebulous “lack of institutional control” rule. It is not lost on that Penn State’s former president Graham Spanier used those N.C.A.A. rules as a moral bludgeon over athletes for so many years and now is the poster boy for N.C.A.A. hypocrisy and priorities gone haywire.

At least there is no statue of Spanier, who isn’t the lasting issue. Paterno is the one in whom so much was invested. And so much lost.

In contrast, arguing whether the Knicks should re-sign Lin or let the Rockets swipe him away is a breath of normal sports air. Linsanity was such a bright star in the Knicks’ largely dark sky that that the insanity would be letting him go. The sticking point is the contract terms Houston offered him, which prompts to urge the Knicks to bow out. Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony called the contract ridiculous — while insisting, , that he’s not pushing Lin out the door — and Denver Coach George Karl calls it part of a summer of N.B.A. contract foolishness, . It doesn’t help the Knicks’ cause that new signee Jason Kidd was arrested for drunken driving this weekend, replacing Linsanity with something altogether uglier, .

Baseball offered up a comeback story to lighten up the weekend: the return of Ben Sheets to the majors after a two-year struggle. It could, as , make a huge difference in the Braves’ hopes. predicts everyone soon will be talking about a trading frenzy before baseball’s deadline. Or, you could contemplate the latest installment in absurd baseball injuries: Boston’s that he said was caused by leaning over to talk to a child.

For a day, though, the Tour de France was the center of nuttiness when a spectator apparently threw carpet tacks onto the course, causing multiple flat tires. At least the riders in not letting it derail the leader Cadel Evans’s hopes.

The good virtues of sports are worth hanging on to, especially when they can so easily be ransacked in the rush to worship heroes.

Follow Leading Off on Twitter:

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: July 16, 2012

An earlier version of this column misstated Ben Sheets’s surname as Sears.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *