Why was Joe Paterno the most powerful man at Penn State?
A speech act is a term used to define things brought into being simply by being spoken aloud such as a promise, warning, vow, or law. For example, when two people are joined in holy matrimony, the marriage vows are followed by the bride and groom agreeing to the sanctity of their promise to each other, till death do them part, by saying aloud, “I do.” In so doing, they have performed a speech act. Other examples would include several Dirty Harry quotes, “The Dallas Cowboys are America’s team”, and “Joe Paterno is the most powerful man at Penn State.”
Well before anyone was aware of the crimes by Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno was generally known as the most powerful man at Penn State University. I have yet to come across a hard copy of Paterno’s contract to verify this, but I’m fairly certain that campus omnipotence is nowhere in his terms and conditions. Don’t quote me on that. But let’s assume, I’m right for a second: Why was Joe Paterno the most powerful man at Penn State?
The most obvious reason is that he was the head football coach at Penn State, and yet saying that alone explains nothing since the head football coach only has jurisdiction over football matters. The power of a football coach at a prestigious program comes from the reverence of sports media and fans to that particular program. It is unlikely that Dave Christensen, head football coach at the University of Wyoming, would dare to tell the board of trustees or the dean of the university what to do because the football program does not have championship pedigree. Head coaches of big football programs are only asked to win and keep the bad press to a minimum.
Urban Meyer won two national championships in three years as the head coach at the University of Florida, impressive indeed. Another stat that stands out is 31 arrests of Florida football players in five years. Among the arrests were thefts, domestic abuses charges, and DUIs, and those are just the things that did not get covered up so that his players could win those championships.
Meyer recently became the Ohio State Buckeyes’ head coach. He is replacing Jim Tressel who was fired for failing to notify the NCAA of violations that would have kept them out of football games.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the Jerry Sandusky case is the refusal of sports media to take a long look at how the culture of sports allowed this to become a possibility. Paterno did not follow proper protocol, and allowed the abuse of children to continue; however, many of his contemporaries bend the rules everyday without consequence, at the detriment of others, because we all turn a blind eye for a winning football coach. As the victims of Sandusky will tell you, silence, as a speech act, is the most powerful.