Sports played an incredible role in my life. Since I was a zygote, I wanted to be the starting second baseman for the Chicago Cubs. I’m still working on it. My arm is weak but my love for the game is strong.
Coach Murray, Ray, Wilson, Mervine, Engel, Ushela, and Sullivan. I remember them all. They taught me how to be a teammate, leader, good sport, and man, but most important, what it means to live in community. Not only did we rely on each other on the field, but we were a family off it. I met my best friends through baseball.
My mom is an amazing woman and a model mother. One of the greatest things she did was entrust me to the care of my coaches. She told me that they were the boss, no exceptions and then trusted them to be the leader, father-figure and coach they needed to be for me. Because if they failed me in any way, their ass was hers and I pity anyone who crosses my mother, or any other.
The situation at Penn State makes me physically sick. I have two amazing little boys at home and one more on the way and the thought of any person laying a hand on them makes make feel like Charles Manson. But make that person a coach, no furry in Hell can compare.
Coaches are teachers, role models and protectors. That’s the code. Ball fields are not democracies. They are realms run by benevolent dictators with iron fists at the first sign of trouble.
Boys and girls idealize their coaches. Ask any successful athelete to name the three most influential people in their life. Mom, dad, and coach. Coaches are the elders of the game. They have the knowledge, wisdom and experience atheletes crave to succeed. My freshman year in high school, Coach Engel came to Lyons Township High School. When we heard he played for the SF Giants, we all wanted to be Coach Engel. Even better, he was a second baseman. I watched his every move. I mimiced his footwork, his throwing style and how he broke in his mitt. He benched me for a few games to try stronger, faster players and I worked harder to make him see I was the best. He’d tell me to jump and I would ask how high? If he offered me heroin, I would take twice as much to impress him.
But coach Engel and all my coaches never offered me heroin, or cocaine or steroids or anything other than gatorade and lessons on baseball and life. Because they were coaches. The good ones and the bad ones knew the code. They knew my mom had entrusted her son to them. They knew I and all the other players trusted them far beyond what was healthy. They knew they were in a position of great power. And they knew they were leaders in a broader community and expected to take care of is. They took the responsibility.
Coach Sullivan, my varsity coach, was a father to me. Coach Engel inspired me. Coach Ushela taught me what it takes to win. Coach Davis taught me values based leadership. Coach Dunn taught me how to actualize my dreams. And Coach Petromilli taught me never to give up. Thank you to every coach and mentor who gave me the confidence to trust people.
I hear all of the sports pundits talking about how this is the tragic end to a great coaches career. It is tragic, but not because some guy happened to coach a lot of football games. But that he was called “coach” for so many years when he didn’t have the strength when it counted or decency to protect players that would do anything to be in and around his program.
It is tragic because young boys who dreamt of meeting Joe Paterno and playing for Penn State found themselves in the lair if a sexual deviant who destroyed their lives. Their are no coaches at Penn State. Only dictators who pursue their own self interests of winning games, achieving fame and power, and feasting on innocents.
And where is the community at Penn State? Coaches are given so much dictatorial power because they know if they violate the code, and god forbid lay a hand on a child, they are heritics and excommunicated. But as the leadership at Penn State make the right decision on making sure Paterno never coaches another game, students and fans are rising up in his defense. Joe Pa is “cool,” has power and should be untouchable. Pleas of, “he didn’t know,” or “did what he was legally obligated to do,” are ridiculous. First, leaders know everything that is going on and if they do not, they still are responsible for it. Second, This is not a legal issue. This is a community and moral issue. Have we declined as a community so far that preserving the joyous memories of winning games under a legend is more important to us than condemning a legend for running a loose ship that allows someone to stalk the boys locker room for his next thrill? A coach that fosters an environment that allows anyone to touch a kid should need the police to protect him from being dragged off to the guillotine. Instead, Penn State students protest, riot and chant, “Hell no, Joe won’t go!” Has the market for college football games become so radical that winning is more important than projecting our children?
Sports used to be cool for all the right reasons – teamwork, sportsmanship, community, exercise and fun. Now it has given way to winning at all costs, careers, endorsements and dollars. Lou Gerhig has given way to Michael Vick. Where have you gone Coach Engel, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.