Photo (Not of Penn State Riots): looking4poetry, Flickr Creative Commons
The end of Joe Paterno's career as Penn State's football coach is one of the more depressing things I've followed in a while. I don't really feel bad that the guy lost his job. Not doing more to stop his former assistant coach from raping young boys is inexcusable, although I am open to the possibility that we're missing some information that would make his part of the story seem a bit more understandable.
I'm open because this possibility because we're talking about Joe Paterno. If it were a scumbag like Bobby Petrino, I wouldn't care that his reputation was ruined. Everyone who knows enough to have an opinion about Paterno, though, seems to say that he had as much of a positive effect on the academics at his school as he did on the athletic program. He's never been involved in a major NCAA violation, and his program is known for caring enough about the future of its players to actually make sure they graduate with a degree. If Sandusky had never been a horrible man or had been caught without Paterno having ever known anything, Paterno would have retired as possibly the most unblemished coach in the history of major college football.
Because of that, this story just doesn't jive with my image of the man. It's true that he notified his superior when he was told about the incident and maybe he wrongly assumed that his athletic director would do what was right. I can understand that. He'd had at least a close working relationship with Sandusky and it seems that those who had played for and worked with Sandusky liked the man. I can understand not wanting to believe something so horrible about a friend. What I can't believe is letting this slide when it became obvious that your boss wasn't doing the right thing. After all, we're talking about a time span of years since the incident was reported, not days or weeks. Sometimes, you have to do what is right even if it means watching a friend fall from grace because of it. Those boys couldn't be expected to protect themselves.
I don't like this story. Even though I know that good people can turn away and do nothing when evil is done around them or even cause that evil themselves, I don't like it when it happens. I want the world to be black and white, good and evil, no matter how much I realize it's not. There's too much evidence for the argument that Paterno is ultimately a good man for me to really write him off as a bad guy. The truth is, he's human and he screwed up. That's hard to accept.
The rioting of Penn State students is fucked up, though. Yes, they have good reason to love the man, but he screwed up. He'd probably admit that he screwed up and that it was a major screw-up. You can be angry about how his career ended, but you have to admit he's very much part of the reason it ended this way. Rioting for a man who, in effect, protected a child molester by not doing more to stop him, is ridiculous. You should be ashamed of yourself. Imagine trying to explain your actions to the 10-year-old boy who was just raped by a man he'd respected. Then try and smash the window out of that car again. Feel a little stupid, don't you? I bet Paterno does too right now.