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Penn State scandal is wakeup call for big change in college sports

Alone on field for main Penn State coach Joe Paterno looks on during football practice on Wednesday.
Associated Press
Alone on field for main Penn State coach Joe Paterno looks on during football practice on Wednesday.

The firing of Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno following criminal charges of child sex abuse against one of his former assistant coaches, Jerry Sandusky, has been the subject of innumerable news stories and conversations.

The 84-year-old Paterno has more wins than any other coach in college football history, but he will leave the university with his reputation destroyed for not taking serious action after receiving knowledge of these alleged crimes.

KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says there is no question that Paterno deserved to lose his job.

Firing neccessary

Paterno suggested early this week that the board of trustees at the university didn't need to waste any time deciding his fate, saying he would simply retire at the end of the season. Art says that attitude is precisely why he needed to go.

"He (Paterno) thought that his commitment to the team was more important than what had happened. His betrayal of his own code, that code being 'Success with Honor' was betrayed years ago when he kept quiet what he knew about Jerry Sandusky."

While there is certainly more information not yet released, Art says that with the evidence of wrongdoing going back to 1998, it seems impossible that Paterno knew nothing, and so he had decided to keep a lid on this information that is just now surfacing.

The reflection on Penn State and college sports

Art says that in this case, the value of the prestige of the Penn State football program outweighed the value of the welfare of the young boys affected by these alleged crimes. He says this is analogous of what can happen when big time college sports programs become bigger than the university.

"The fact that it would get so big that it would skew the judgement of what I would otherwise consider an honorable man in Joe Paterno is evidence that reform is desperately needed."

Changing the college sports culture

While this might be the catalyst needed for large universities to make changes to their major athletic programs, people have been calling on reform in college athletics for years. Art feels that loosening the association from the university, paying players, renting facilities and considering these large football and basketball programs more of a professional minor league system would end the hypocrisy.

"You still fill the stadiums, you still have the spectacle, but there is no hypocrisy and it is still well funded by the professional leagues and the ticket buyers. That way you clean up a lot of things. It doesn't change criminal behavior necessarily, but the fact that Penn State would value its brand more than the welfare of young boys is an indictment that every college needs to reflect upon."

What are your thoughts of the scandal at Penn State and the firing of Joe Paterno?

You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest.

Kevin Kniestedt is a journalist, host and producer who began his career at KNKX in 2003. Over his 17 years with the station, he worked as a full time jazz host, a news host and produced the weekly show Sound Effect. Kevin has conducted or produced hundreds of interviews, has won local and national awards for newscasts and commentary.
Art Thiel is a co-founder and writer for the rising sports website Sportspress Northwest. In 2003 Thiel wrote the definitive book about the Seattle Mariners, “Out of Left Field,” which became a regional bestseller. In 2009, along with Steve Rudman and KJR 950 afternoon host Mike Gastineau, Thiel authored “The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists,” a cross between and Mad Magazine that has become mandatory reading for any sports fan who has an indoor bathroom.