Now that giant slimeball Jerry Sandusky has been found guilty on 45 of 48 counts of sexually abusing 10 young boys, it might be interesting to revisit a column from last November by the always excellent Joe Posnanski (of Sports Illustrated) who made the important but subtle point that Joe Paterno’s involvement is more complicated than some of us might recognize, or want to admit.
Posnanski notes — and I completely agree with him, despite the many shades of gray implied here — that it is indeed possible to do both of these things: (a) live a generous, profoundly decent life and provide leadership for thousands of young men and guide them into adulthood, creating future leaders and providing a wonderful service to society in the process, and (b) make one horrible, inexcusable mistake that is completely out of character and stains your legacy forever.
It defies comprehension, but if somebody like Joe Paterno can fall into this trap of hubris over common sense, then anybody can. People, it turns out, are much more complicated than we sometimes want to believe. That much is obvious now, if it was not before.
More to the point, the situations we find ourselves in, and the conflicts of interest that result from those situations, sometimes cause even the very best among us to fail to do the right thing.
I literally could not believe this story when it first broke, and I still have trouble believing it ever happened at all. I respected Joe Paterno more than just about any coach I can remember in 45 years of watching college and professional sports. But no matter how many great things he did over 50+ years of coaching, he’s the figurehead of the program, and what happens on his watch is ultimately his responsibility. This is the price of leadership.
He had power, lots of power, so much power that when asked to step down in 2004, he said no, and his superiors (if indeed he really had any true superiors at Penn State) accepted that decision. So the choice he apparently made, to protect the program by not invoking the power that he had — the power that he knew he had — to stop Sandusky, and thereby implicitly condoning felony sexual assault on university premises, against children, is such a chilling and difficult choice to understand that it defies belief.
There is no getting around it: the legendary Joe Paterno heard allegations that his longtime assistant coach was caught raping a 10-year-old boy in the facilities of Penn State. He reported it up the chain. He knew, or should have known, that the investigation would be whitewashed. And then … nothing else for 9 years, while Sandusky continued hanging out with 12-year-olds. And now, further potential allegations that Joe P may have helped with the whitewash.
Read the grand jury findings, if you can stomach it, though you’ll probably have to take multiple breaks to regain your calm. Then, apply a little critical thinking to the amount of coverup and willful blindness and kool-aid drinking that *had* to be going on here, and then get back to me on the “he did what was legally required” thing.
That was not nearly enough.