I'm Ready To Talk About Joe Paterno and Penn State

As I'm sure you're all well aware of, the trial of former Penn State defensive coaching legend and accused pedophile Jerry Sandusky is currently taking place. It's something I've spent a considerable amount of energy trying to stay away from, selfishly not wanting to learn more of the lurid details the alleged victims had to share, not wanting to see my alma mater brought once again to the limelight for this horrible scandal.

It's been a painful experience as an alumnus, an experience that pales in comparison to the horrendous encounters that the victims and their families were forced to entail, events that will follow them for the rest of their lives.

When the scandal broke, I bared my raw emotions and wrote a piece that tore me apart inside as the last story published on TSFJ's parent site, Ed the Sports Fan.

A lot has happened since then. There was trepidation and coming together. There was a new coach brought on, and an old legend passing away as his legacy crumbled around him. And really, all the while, I've had pretty much nothing to say.

I've felt too sad, too betrayed, too tired to want to deal with the new reality of my university. Not even my rabid sports fandom, my passion for Penn State football could bring me back into the fold. I wanted nothing more to do with Penn State for a while. So I sat silent. For months.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that's not exactly my modus operandi. When I have a close connection to something, a big affinity for something, I have no shortage of opinions on the matter. Yet here I was, with my alma mater, the school I had dreamed of attending since I was a little kid, the school I graduated from, a football program I had followed all my life, in the midst of the most heinous kind of scandal imaginable, and I couldn't contribute anything further than my initial reactions that I spilled out on the Internet.

They say time heals all wounds, to which I say bullshit. These wounds will never go away for the victims, and they'll never go away for the people who truly care about human kind. They'll never go away for many of the Penn State students and alumni as well, because it will forever be associated with the university we chose, a university whose officials betrayed our trust and, worst of all, the trust of innocent young boys. I know these wounds will never really heal, so the best we can do is try to right the ship, try to make a difference and move on. There's really no other choice. Silence is not the answer.

So here, I have finally decided to break my silence. I'm ready to talk about Joe Paterno and Penn State again, ready to share my opinions and let the chips fall where they may.

When the scandal broke, I immediately said everyone in charge had to go. That's exactly what happened, and I stand by my statements 100 percent.

I know there was a pretty big uproar about the way the university went about dismissing the legendary Joe Paterno, indisputably the most important person in Penn State history. Hell, even Coach K chimed in. I agree that the way the Board of Trustees handled it wasn't what you'd call ideal, but I also don't really think it matters all that much how he was fired. The fact of the matter is Joe Paterno was fired, and he deserved to be.

That's a statement I'm oddly comfortable making, even as the man has passed on — a man I once revered and held to highest standard. But this man proved to be just that, a man who is flawed like all men, a man who simply didn't do enough, just as no one in this whole terrible tragedy did enough.

That doesn't mean I'm going to look back at everything Joe Paterno did and was and pretend it never happened, and it certainly doesn't mean I believe Joe Paterno is the most culpable player here. He was a man who bettered the lives of thousands of people, maybe more. He was a man who truly believed in education and put his money where his mouth is. He was a man who felt much more pride having his name on the library than this absurd crusade to rename the football field after him. Oh yeah, he was also a damn good football coach.

I don't think it's right to forget all of that, and I don't think it's right to forget what a great place Penn State was and is. But I also don't think it's right to forget what happened here, and how many people, including Joe Paterno, had in hand in allowing it to happen. It's not right to to just say sorry and then offer up excuses, because this entire mess in inexcusable. Joe Paterno lived a great life for a long time. Then he made a grave error in judgment, one he deservedly suffered the consequences for — consequences, I might add, that can't even begin to touch the the consequences his inaction resulted in. I wish he was here to tell his side of the story, to accept responsibility and lead a crusade to make Penn State a better place like he had for decades before, but he's not. He's gone. And he won't be forgotten. I just hope that none of his story, even its disturbing end, is ever forgotten or distorted.

Life does not reside in the simple tenets of black and white. There are gray areas everywhere. I've had to deal with certain ones myself, as we all have. This whole entire murky mess illustrates just how complicated, and horrible, and confusing the world can be. It brings about questions of power and respect and safety, of fandom and athletics run amok. It makes a person look inside himself and at those around him and ask some tough questions.

And at the end of the day, it's proof that life, in all its gray areas, happens everywhere and to everyone, even in a place like Happy Valley. It's our job to make life happen in a positive way and not let terrible tragedies like this take place. I think Joe Paterno would agree with that.

If you can, donate to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network or a similar charity to help prevent these horrible crimes and aid the victims traumatized by this type of horror. It's everyone's responsibility to keep our children safe, and if we can't do that, then really, what's the point?

14 Replies to “I'm Ready To Talk About Joe Paterno and Penn State”

  1. The NCAA needs to adjust their priorities as well. They seem to have no shortage of manpower when it comes to investigating who got a tattoo, a favorable car lease, dinner off campus or too many tweets.

    Meanwhile, serious, deplorable crimes go on right under their noses for years and they know nothing about it?

    Now that this has been brought to light, awareness will be such that something on this scale won't happen again. At least, let's hope so. Very good piece, sir.

    1. It really is appalling that this could be swept under the rug for so long, by so many people. I can't even explain how genuinely hurt I am by all of this; imagine what those poor kids and their families have to deal with. I won't even pretend I can relate, but it's safe to say their feelings are about a million times more powerful than mine.

      Let's hope that with something so high-profile bringing this sickness to light, there will be much more awareness and prevention and safety brought to communities everywhere.

      1. As crazy and simple as this sounds, the best thing that can happen at this point is that football will be played in 3 months and folks can try and move on. Tough to sit through all of this thru a long offseason. Good read Rev.

  2. I read your stuff often and this is the first time I've commented...

    Excellent article. This is probably the most honest, level headed opinion piece I've seen on this issue. I have nothing at all to do with PSU but as a college football fan, this whole mess really hurt me deeply...so did the coverage of the PSU student reaction, even though I know that was a small percentage of the PSU community. That being said, I can't imagine how all the Penn Staters feel and I can't come close to knowing what the victims went through. If something like this happened at my alma mater I'd be absolutley crushed and only God knows how I'd react.

    Keep up the good work and be a continue to be an outstanding ambassador for Penn State.

  3. Where do I begin? Thank you for sharing your thoughts....but they are thoughts only, and very limited.

    Where is your outrage at The Second Mile? Where is your outrage at DPW/CYS? Where is your outrage at Centre County Law Enforcement and the area High Schools Adminstration?

    This is not a football problem. This is a problem in society at-large. This is a case of an adult male that worked his way up to a trusted status with impeccable credentials...gaining the trust of Child Welfare Agencies that placed foster kids in his home & granted him adoptions.

    He Founded & was the Paid Spokesperson for a Foundation for At-Risk kids...that ironically placed those same kids At-Risk with him. He was allowed to flout the most basic rule when working with minors - NEVER BE ALONE WITH ANY CHILD LEST YOUR ACTIONS BE MISCONSTRUED.

    He was granted Emeritus Status by the PSU Board of Trustees, which was never revoked even after many folks on that Board were aware years ago of his investigation by authorities as they were Second Mile Board members/patrons and received a letter to that effect.

    I could go on.........

    This man was Hiding In Plain Sight. Where is your outrage at these folks?

    1. I agree with every last thing you said. Being that this a sports site, I chose to share my thoughts on reconciling my feelings about Joe Paterno, not discuss the many entities, the majority of which are way, way more culpable than Paterno, who played a hand in all of this.

      Believe me, I am as outraged about it as you. That just wasn't the topic of the piece.

    1. Stay away from what? The university I've loved my entire life and the school I graduated from? I don't have much of a desire to stay away. I love Penn State. But, uh, thanks for reading I guess. You certainly helped further the discourse.

  4. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. However,maybe before commenting on Joe Paterno's roll in this you should do some thinking. What would you have done if you were in Joe's shoes? Someone comes to you with something they think they saw the night before. Keep in mind, the person who saw it walked away without saying anything or doing anything to protect the child. The witness then relays what he saw to his father who is a dr. and to a family friend who is also a doctor. Nobody reports anything that night. The father said he didn't actually see it happening so he did nothing but tell his son to tell his boss, Joe Paterno. Joe thinks about it to be sure he does the right thing. Now remember, Joe has not witnessed any of this and he is just going on what someone tells him. Joe is getting second hand info a day later. Joe follows protocol and informs his boss and takes it a step farther and tells the head of the campus police. They in turn meet with the witness. It was being handled. I believe they brought Sandusky in and talked with him. There is no physical evidence that this crime occurred. If McQueary had stopped Sandusky right there and removed the child from the situation then perhaps Penn State could have done more. What more did you want Joe Paterno to do? He couldn't suspend Sandusky since he was no longer on the coaching staff. I am sure if Joe actually witnessed the crime the end result would have been much different!
    It's easy to condemn someone but you should first try to walk in their shoes beofore you open your mouth!

  5. Sir, I want you to know that I am not angry at your piece. The only thing I would recommend is that you please make sure you have the facts...all of them before you comment on what Joe Paterno did or did not know. When someone says they wished they had done more does not mean that he supported Sandusky and hid the truth...he meant, like all of us do when something turns horrible, Gosh, I wished I could have made that outcome different for the victims. Have some faith sir that the truth will surface regarding those responsible for hiding the truth. We will never hear what Joe knew or what his thoughts were on the topic so I would implore you to not assume that you know. Take heed and be respectful. I am going to assume that our Coach was an honorable man and I know that he was a good father, not only to his children but to thousands that have walked through PSU. Be proud to be a graduate...I know that I am! Class of 93'

    1. I agree with everything you said. Every last word. The only thing I would add is that no matter how you slice it, when someone comes to you with accusations that someone is harming children in any form, you have to stay on top of it. No doubt, Paterno did what he was supposed to do in following protocol, but this was a mishandling of epic proportions, and the university, in my opinion, had to clean house to attempt to move on.

      I don't think Joe did anything heinous. I believe him to be a great man, a good man, a proud man. But I think it was his responsibility, and everyone else involved, especially Mike and the administrators that seem to have performed a cover-up, to stay on top of it.

      I am proud to be a graduate and I am proud to have been a supporter of Joe Paterno my entire life. But unless the facts come out that he was pressing the situation and it was continually ignored, I won't feel any differently about his dismissal. When you hold yourself to the highest standard, creating the "Grand Experiment" and "Success with Honor," you have to be held to that standard you created for yourself.

      Again, Joe Paterno is at the bottom of the totem pole here in blame and for my outrage, but when you are a man like him, you have to be held accountable to your own standards. In this case, just following protocol isn't good enough. Not when the welfare of children is at stake. Perhaps that isn't fair, but as we all know, life is not fair.

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