Thursday, January 22, 2015

Controversy Over Penn State 409 Decals

Looks like some more trouble is emanating from Happy Valley.

The Penn State University men's hockey team wore “409” decals on their white helmets (as shown) last Friday for its game against visiting Big Ten rival Michigan State, after the NCAA ruled that it was restoring 111 wins to late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. Those wins had been taken away following the NCAA's investigation into the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse incidents on campus that came to light in recent years.

Penn State was also stripped of a number of football scholarships, and was not permitted to participate in bowl games for four years. The latter stricture was lifted this season, as the Nittany Lions triumphed, 31-30, over Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.

Paterno again ranks first among NCAA Division I football coaches with a total of 409 career victories. Some have taken Penn State hockey coach Guy Gadowsky to task for the 409 decals, however, saying that wearing them was an affront to Sandusky's victims, and perhaps ignored any possible role that Paterno may have played in covering up his former assistant coach's crimes before he himself was fired from his longtime position.

Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour apparently wasn’t happy with the decals, either, as she expressed on Twitter. The next night, Penn State claimed a 5-2 win over MSU at Pegula Arena in which the Nittany Lions wore gray third jerseys and non-standard blue helmets, apparently without any “409” decals.

Having known Gadowsky, and having also covered Princeton University for several years when he was coaching there, I find it hard to believe that he would have done such a thing with complete disregard for the Sandusky victims. If anything, it was a show of solidarity with the rest of the Penn State community.

Could the decal gesture have been taken the wrong way? Sure it could have. Despite the NCAA lessening the sanctions it imposed on the football program, rightly or wrongly, there are still deep wounds running through the campus. Some people may take a long time to heal regarding what happened, and others may never be fully whole.

Taking away or restoring wins to the football program isn’t the key issue, it’s helping those people who were hurt. Wins in the end are intangible, just something marked down on paper or kept track of on a computer. The real question is, is Penn State truly working to ensure that incidents like Sandusky’s never happen again? 

I don't think that Gadowsky, a husband and father as well as a coach, did this with malicious intent. Whether or not Paterno knew what was going on or covered things up—and it's hard to believe he didn't—he’s always going to be associated with Penn State, for good or bad. I wouldn’t put his statue up again, but he will always be associated with the school due to his longevity, if nothing else. Some supporters will still defend him and his record to the death, especially against perceived outsiders.

When it's all said and done, the decals may have rubbed some people the wrong way, and it's probably good they’ve been removed so as not to keep potentially antagonizing those individuals who didn't agree with their placement in the first place. Penn State still has a long way to go.

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