"If you're runnin' down my country, man,
you're walkin' on the fightin' side of me."
The Fightin' Side of Me
Merle Haggard 1968
My fighting side is boiling today and there are a number of reasons why.
Joe Paterno died this morning.
"Joe Pa" all the Yankee sportswriters and fans called him, but down South my buddies and I knew him simply as Papa. In SEC country, we loved him just about as much as Bear, Archie, Bo, and Herschel. We're college football fans see, not fairweather cowards. If he'd have coached at Alabama, or Tennessee, or Georgia, or LSU ... I doubt we'd have run him off and humiliated him because a weirdo had been on his staff fifteen years earlier.
Lung cancer gets cast as the culprit in Papa's demise, but you, me, and everybody with sense enough to come in out of the rain (which excludes Penn State Trustees and much of the school's administration) knows he died from a broken heart. The chemo and radiation Joe fought through these past few months couldn't have been nearly so painful as the shameful, hurtful treatment the gallant old lion suffered at the hands of those ungrateful "leaders" at Penn State. A trustee phone call in November saying simply "you're through" (let that cold-blooded statement sink in) ended more than sixty years of service for a man who'd lifted a rinky-dink cow college into international prominence. I won't name that squirrelly trustee, but man he's walking on the fightin' side of me. Let's also save a bit of vitriol for the sheep-herd mentality of the shoot first-find out facts later media that pressured the spineless Penn Staters. What a miserable group - the whole lot of them.
I'll choose to remember Joe Paterno for his greatness.
Papa was an Ivy-League educated football coach, a man who could've been a priest and considered practicing law. His teams were just that - teams ... players working together, the whole greater than the sum of its parts. This man coached Lydell Mitchell and Franco Harris in the same backfield, the great Curt Warner, a list of linebackers that reads like a Hall of Fame roster, yet always the individuals sacrified their personalities into the group. Happy Valley was not a place for prima donnas.
Paterno won two national titles (1982 and 1986), had a legitimate argument for four others (1968, 1969, 1973, 1994), led five unbeaten squads, won over 400 games (the only FBS coach to do so), coached (37) and won (24) more bowls than anybody, and is the only person to win all the majors bowls (Rose, Sugar, Orange, Cotton, Fiesta).
While different in demeanor and temperament, Paterno most reminds me of the great Vince Lombardi. Brooklyn boys, both considered the priesthood and law before settling on football - at the time still a rather minor distraction in the pantheon of American sports - as the profession where they'd make a mark. Unlike the whiners of contemporary society, where racism and bigotry are claimed at the slightest inconvenience (like having to work for instance), these two men overcame real prejudice against Americans of Italian descent ... Lombardi being passed over by schools and teams that were not ready for a coach with a last name that ended in a vowel, Paterno shunned by the WASPy elite at Brown. Neither man forgot those slights and went out of their way to champion fairness on their teams, regardless of skin color or ethnic background.
Penn State did not deserve him ... and he surely did not deserve the shameful treatment they gave him these past few months.
College football will not see another Paterno. RIP Papa.
Have We Lost Our Minds?
Let me continue my rant by asking whether this nation has collectively lost its mind.
President Obama seems an incompetent. If news articles and essays are accurate, he may also be condescending and arrogant. Even the first lady seems to be wearing so thin on many Americans that even the reliably liberal NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd recently took her to task.
But ... do you think Republicans have an answer?
Think again. The Grand Ole Party seriously could be about to nominate a caricature. Newt Gingrich and I have at least two similarities. We both taught at West Georgia College (he a couple of decades before me) and probably neither one of us should be elected President of the United States in 2012. Rumpled, bombastic, and undisciplined for most of his professional life, I predict the President (who is disciplined if nothing else) would defeat him handily in a general election.
This president deserves to lose, yet the nation seems too fearful to fire him. I think political correctness rears its ugly head as part of this equation ... too many Americans probably think someone will consider them racist for an unkind word against Obama. Well, it's not racist to call him disappointing and following unsound economic and foreign policies.
Is it too tough to understand that as a nation we spend too much?
We cannot raise taxes enough ... or cut spending enough for that matter ... to pay all the Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and Obamacare mandates we've promised. That's just at the federal level and does not include all the state pension systems for government workers. We cannot pay those IOUs without major changes. It cannot happen. Democrats are too often shameless partisans (quick to attribute any legitimate dissent against Obama as racism or to demagogue serious politicians like Paul Ryan). Republicans, on the other hand, can be hopeless dupes (buying into one snake oil salesman candidate after another, many of them seemingly in the public realm simply to sell more books or raise speaking fees).
As citizens we should storm the gates.
On all the course syllabi distributed in my classes, a policy addresses the use of electronic devices during class (primarily smart phones). Without that policy and frequent subtle and not-so-subtle reminders, I'd recognize the tops of the heads of some students more than I would their faces. The same goes for most social venues, including highways, where Americans are busy tweeting, texting, talking, and pretty much paying attention to the palms of their hands more than the road or their lunch companion.
I like Twitter and following the news online, but I'm not sure young people understand the permanence and potential implications of using social media without a filter. Not every word or thought that comes to mind should be posted for the world to see ... and for future generations to access. Once it's online, those words or actions never go away.
The lewd behavior of an Alabama fan after the BCS national title game obviously comes to mind. I won't rehash the story, but the chicanery involves drunkenness, stupidity, vulgar (and potentially criminal) behavior ... and a viral video of the whole thing that future family members of all involved will be able to show at reunions. Yuck.
Big brother is officially watching ... and he is us.
America in 2012 ... as Brother Merle sang ... if you don't love it, leave it. Or change it.
Until next time.