Paterno’s Deeper Sin

Joe Paterno

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For today, a departure from the usual PR and social media chatter to talk about something that’s been ratling around my head about the Penn State Child Rape Scandal. And let’s not mince words, kids. That’s what it is.

The whole thing is horrifying and sickening. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of something that has turned my stomach more. I can barely watch the media coverage of it all.

As twisted and evil as the alleged actions of Mr. Sandusky (and if true, I wish him a long stay in “general population” at the state penitentiary), the sins of Coach Paterno are far worse. Why?

Paterno betrayed and abandoned his friend. At least, that’s how the Paterno-Sandusky relationship has been described. So let’s pretend:

Imagine you’re at home one night, and your friend comes roaring down the street in his car, plows onto your lawn and stumbles out in a drunken haze. He’s falling down, vomiting on himself and is clearly in distress. You don’t know what he’s done or where he’s been. You don’t know if he’s hurt anyone. But it’s clear he needs help. And you’re his friend. So you run outside, approach him, grab his car keys.. then calmly turn your back on him, head into your house and turn out the light, leaving him standing there. Alone.

Now you may have stopped him for tonight. But he’ll be back behind the wheel soon. And if he’s got a drinking problem, he’ll eventually find his way to another bottle. So despite your actions now, you haven’t really got a drunk off the road. You haven’t protected the people he might hurt in the future. And you haven’t given this poor soul the help he clearly needs to get sober, or at least try to. Instead, you’ve done the least you could possibly do. And you walked away.

That’s what Joe Paterno did. The least he had to do. It’s also becoming clear that he may have actively hid the crimes, along with others at Penn State. But that’s a whole issue for another day. I’m just talking about the Paterno-Sandusky relationship, for now.

Now I’m not saying Paterno had to go running to the cops. Nor am I suggesting he rat out his friend and hang him out to dry (though that would have been an option, and in this case, a good one). If this person was really a friend he wanted to help, there are any number of ways he could have interceded that got Sandusky what he truly needed. In the process, Paterno might also have prevented future victimization. How many kids might Paterno have saved if he had just been a real friend?

But he wasn’t, and he didn’t. Paterno chose, at best, to walk away. And in doing so, he destroyed that which he took his entire life to build. His legacy is no longer about football. It’s about ten year old boys being raped in the Penn State showers. He could have stopped it, but he didn’t.

The right thing to do is usually never the easy thing to do. That’s why people get so much credit for doing the former, and usually get none for the latter.


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