By: Breanna Jacobs
On October 3, 1995, O.J. Simpson walked free from a Los Angeles County courtroom. The verdict: not guilty.
Simpson was tried on two counts of murder following the deaths of his wife and her friend. The evidence did not stand up in court, and the football star walked out into the shining sunlight of innocence.
Fast forward ten years, to December of 2005; it was my first time at a Buffalo Bills game. Walking into Ralph Wilson Stadium, my eyes scanned the Wall of Fame, which circles the inside of the stadium. My eyes lit up upon names such as Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith, Andre Reed and…O.J Simpson?
I turned to my dad and said, “Why is O.J. Simpson’s name up there?”
My dad replied, quite simply, “Because he was a great football player.”
And Simpson was a great football player; he was the Bills’ first pick in the 1969 Common Draft and he was the first professional football player to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season. Simpson is the only player to ever rush for 2,000 yards in a 14-game season and still holds the record for the single season yards per game average, which stands at 143.1 yards per game.
In 1985, Simpson was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where his bust still stands today.
When Simpson was accused of murder, the Buffalo Bills organization had a tough decision to make: should his name stay on the Wall of Fame, or should it be taken down for an alleged crime? Controversy surrounded the decision, but a decision was made, and Simpson’s name remains on the Wall of Fame to this day.
But why did they decide to immortalize Simpson? The answer is simple: he was a great football player and his contributions to the sports world did not change because he was tried for murder, did not change because he was accused of kidnapping and did not change now that he sits in prison, serving a sentence for armed robbery.
Thus, we are brought to what I am calling, “The O.J. Simpson Standard”: Regardless of accusations brought against you or the opinions of others, the contributions one makes to the sports world, and the world in general, remain intact.
Simpson walked free from that courtroom in 1995, facing no charges and no prison sentence, just as Joe Paterno faced no charges and no prison sentence in relation to the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
But the late football coach was not held to “the O.J. Simpson Standard.” The statue of the winningest coach in Division I college football history was removed from Gate B at Beaver Stadium this morning and put into storage, thrown into the murky depths of unknown facts, accusations and assumptions.
Paterno, the only FBS coach to reach 400 wins, made great contributions not only to the world of sports, but to the Penn State community; over the years, Paterno donated millions of dollars to the university, THON and the Special Olympics.
The statue stood as a reminder of all Paterno had done for the university and the athletic accomplishments he had made, just like Simpson’s bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame signifies the contributions he made to the world of professional football.
In regard to the removal of the statue, Penn State University President Rodney Erickson said in a statement, “I now believe that, contrary to its original intention, Coach Paterno’s statue has become a source of division and an obstacle to healing in our University and beyond.”
With the release of the Freeh Report, the controversy over whether the statue should stay or go began. Freeh believes that Paterno may have been one of the major contributors in covering up the Sandusky scandal. However, the Free Report, while thorough, failed to provide the disclaimer that those 267-pages were Judge Freeh’s opinions and assumptions based on the interviews he conducted and the documents he read.
But a call to arms was made by the public and the media, forcing the University to act, whether they were ready to or not.
Erickson said in a statement, “I believe that, were it to remain, the statue will be a recurring wound to the multitude of individuals across the nation and beyond who have been the victims of child abuse.”
Paterno was never tried, never charged and never convicted of child abuse or child sexual abuse, just as Simpson was never convicted of murder.
Paterno may have done wrong by not taking what he knew about Sandusky’s actions beyond Tim Curley and Gary Schultz (both of whom, might I add, have been charged with perjury in conjunction to the Sandusky case), but we will never truly know what he knew or what he did, because Paterno is no longer here to defend himself, which makes it that much easier for the media and public to pin the whole cover-up on Paterno.
Now, I am not trying to clear Paterno of his errors; he was not a God, he was a human, just like the rest of us, but he never stood a chance against “the O.J. Simpson Standard.”
Paterno’s was a household name, which is why the media has taken such hard blows to his reputation; Curley, Schultz and Graham Spanier were not well-known across the globe like Paterno was, making it easier for them to slip under the rug and let the late Paterno take the blame for a cover-up that was more than one person deep.
Since Simpson was accused of murder, the face of popular media has changed; social media and online blogs and journals have risen in popularity, making it easier for everyone and anyone to share their opinions. The media played a bigger role in taking down Paterno’s statue than many might think; the external pressure from the media and the public forced the University to act, forced the Board of Trustees and the administration to make a decision about the statue.
Who knows, they may have taken it down eventually, but without those external pressures, they may not have been forced to make a decision so quickly.
Now, back to “the O.J. Simpson standard:” If everyone was held to that standard, I suppose the world would be a very different place, but then again you don’t see angry villagers with pitchforks calling for the Pope to receive the death penalty; he’s not taking the fall for the sexual abuse that Catholic priests have committed. So, the Pope fits perfectly into “the O.J. Simpson Standard”; his religious contributions cannot be destroyed, and a sexual abuse scandal, far more widespread than the Sandusky scandal, cannot unravel a centuries old religion.
The Paterno statue was taken down because it was indicated by Erickson that it would serve as a reminder for victims of sexual abuse of the terrible events that took place at Penn State, and yet the bust of Simpson remains in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and his name remains on the Wall of Fame at Ralph Wilson Stadium, although it could be argued that both could be offensive for those that have had a friend or a relative murdered.
But it is important to remember why the statue was erected outside Beaver Stadium; it was built to honor Paterno’s coaching legacy and it was built to honor the records he set that will never change.
Tomorrow, the NCAA will announce its “unprecedented” sanctions against Penn State University and, on the eve of what may be a shocking announcement, one question remains in regard to “the O.J. Simpson Standard:”
Do allegations and public opinion define one’s lasting legacy on the sports world?