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Ousted Penn State President Is Jewish

Graham Spanier was fired last night along with Coach Joe Paterno

Marc Tracy
November 10, 2011

JTA reports that Penn State President Graham Spanier was also active at the campus Hillel. It’s fascinating how, last night, the Board of Trustees of a gigantic university sensationally sacked the university’s president … and hardly anybody noticed, because the firing of the iconic football coach, Joe Paterno, was much bigger news.

Spanier’s heritage obviously doesn’t exactly make this a “Jewish” story, but as this is your daily blog of Jewish life and sports, a few brief observations:

• Anybody who feels Paterno deserved to spend another season or game or day as coach of the Nittany Lions needs to read the section on “Victim 2” in the grand jury’s report. He has lost absolutely all moral authority.

• Anybody who can’t understand why some Penn State students rioted last night in protest of Paterno’s ouster needs to understand that in a blue-collar state like Pennsylvania with a gigantic land-grant Big Ten state university like Penn State, college football has genuine, valid meaning in people’s lives that readers who haven’t lived it may not fully understand. (This article may be helpful here.) Everybody has things that are important to them that are not important to other people.

• Joe Paterno is a legend for all the right reasons. He genuinely believed in the ideal of the “student-athlete,” which has been turned into a joke by the depredations of the NCAA; even today, Penn State graduates more of its athletes than most other athletic programs of its caliber. At important moments (most notably, the 1987 Fiesta Bowl), Paterno, the Brown grad who basically created Penn State’s classics department, was a singular symbol for that. He is also a brilliant football coach. Any Penn State fan’s anger at losing Joe Paterno is completely justified.

• What is completely unjustified is directing this anger at anybody other than at Jerry Sandusky, the former defensive coordinator and alleged predator, whose crimes were are still learning the extent of, and his enablers at Penn State, who included Paterno and Spanier. Paterno should have gone to the cops immediately back when he heard that Sandusky had raped a minor in the locker room; when the news broke a few days ago, he should have resigned immediately. Instead, several years ago, he told the athletic director (fulfilling his minimal legal obligations). Earlier this week, he waffled, then announced he would retire at the end of the season, and basically challenged the Board to cross him: “At this moment,” he said, “the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status.”

• The Board should be applauded for accepting that challenge and proving that they have significantly more integrity than, say, the Catholic Church. Given Paterno’s power and appeal, it was by no means a foregone conclusion that it would act as it did.

• As Paterno said a couple nights ago, pray for the victims.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.

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