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Remember Joe Paterno

This isn’t an encomium to the Once-Grand Old Man of Penn State. Nor is it a tirade against him.

My heart aches for the young boys—men now, young and not-so-young—whose trust was betrayed, whose lives were scarred and broken.

It aches, too, for Joe and Sue Paterno, and their family.

And, yes, for Jerry and Dottie Sandusky, and their kids and grandkids.

(In 1998, when confronted by the mother of one of his alleged victims—Victim 6, in the Grand Jury report–Sandusky said, according to testimony by the mother and an eavesdropping university police officer,

 I understand I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won’t get it from you. I wish I were dead.

I know, maybe that’s a bunch of B.S. from a practiced manipulator. But maybe, just maybe, it’s a moment of honesty, a cry from the heart of a man trapped in his own addictions.)

So I come neither to bury Caesar nor to praise him. This is more like Remember the Alamo, or the Maine, or Pearl Harbor. Those were war cries, yes. But at root they were calls to live differently in our own future because of someone else’s past. I think and hope that for a long while to come, when I stand at a crossroads between easy and honorable, I’ll cast a look back at the Fall of the House of JoePa.

Note to self: Remember Joe Paterno.

Remember that . . .

Legal isn’t necessarily moral. It looks as if Paterno did what was required by law. But that wasn’t enough. Keep your eye on a higher standard, a way higher standard, than “Is it legal?”

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. Joe Paterno seems to have fallen into thinking that Penn State football was the main thing. He was terribly wrong. Football is just a game, after all. Politics is just a means to an end, corporate success just a temporary trifle. Money? You still can’t take it with you.

It’s always the people that matter.

Hearts were broken and lives damaged—not just the eight young men we know about, but probably many others, and their parents and families as well—because Joe Paterno lost sight of the main thing.

What we whisper behind closed doors will eventually be shouted from the rooftops.Cover-ups rarely work. In fact, if you take a long enough view, they never do. I need to keep working on being the same person in private that I am in public.

You don’t have to do wrong to be wrong; sometimes you just have to do nothing. It sounds like Joe Paterno is in many ways a wonderful guy. Not just the winningest coach in Division 1 history, but a coach with a reputation for winning the right way, with honor. A father whose kids said he and their mother always thought about other people’s needs, and raised them to think the same way.

Did he ever rape boys in the shower? Probably not. But all that was necessary for evil to triumph was for a good man to do almost nothing.

It’s never too late to do the right thing. It looks like Paterno had more than one chance to do the right thing. At a minimum, he should have followed up on his report to University officials in 2002, made sure they were pursuing it. He should have taken the story to the police if they weren’t. And last week he should have stepped up to stepping down on his own.

Even now, though, he has choices. Will he be honest, or stonewall? Pass blame on or take his share? Ask forgiveness of the boys and men hurt on his watch? Try to make some restitution to Sandusky’s victims—or, if not to them, to other victims of sexual abuse?

None of this would fix things, of course. But it might help someone let go, might help someone begin to heal. And even if it didn’t, it would still be the right thing to do.

As long as you can still fog a mirror, it’s never too late to stop, turn around, and do the next right thing.

It’s a sad, sad story. One that I can see myself playing all the roles in. No, I’m not a child rapist, thanks for asking. But I do have my own addictive behaviors that overmaster me from time to time. If I had had a different set of genes, a different childhood, different opportunities . . . well, there but for the grace of God go I.)

I can especially see myself as Joe Paterno, or then-26-year-old graduate coaching assistant Mike McQueary, who says that in 2002 he saw Jerry Sandusky raping a boy in the shower, but turned around and walked away.

Anybody here who has never remained silent when you should have spoken up, raise your hand.

That’s what I thought.

Come to think of it, I suppose this is a war cry of sorts. Let’s remember Joe Paterno.