OK, let’s get this out of the way: what happened in Happy Valley is inexcusable. There is no legal punishment available to the state to deal true justice to that scum named Jerry Sandusky. Further, it is clear that Penn State leaders didn’t do nearly enough with the information they had to spare some little boys from the torture of that monster. Appropriately, Penn State is paying a heavy penalty, though there are many–and I might even be among them–who’d give the school the “death penalty” for a year or three (no football at all; all scholarship players free to transfer to other schools without sitting out a year). Nothing I will say subsequently to this ought to be seen as diminishing the seriousness of their reckless irresponsibility.
And I’m not finished yet. Penn State icon Joe Paterno, “JoePa” as he is known to the faithful, is of course not above blame. As he said before his passing, he should have done more. And that’s true: he should have. His response was way too weak in the light of the allegations made, in the light of the damage done to the kids, in the light of the reputation of the university. Simply put, JoePa failed in this instance to fulfill his moral obligations (though he apparently fulfilled his legal ones), and without any question, this tarnishes his legacy. It’s sad, very sad, for this man who has been for decades universally regarded as one of the “good guys”, to come to such an ignominious posthumous fate.
Deep breath, now…
But OK, look: JoePa isn’t the bad guy here. The less-than-responsible guy, the failed-to-do-what-he-should guy, the remote accessory-to-the-evil-done even, yes. But Jerry Sandusky is the monster, and others bear in varying degrees greater culpability than does JoePa, extending to the university’s Board of Trustees (who’d resign en masse if they were real men), the president, the AD, and others. Do I sound like I’m excusing JoePa? Read what I’ve already written more carefully, because I am not; he failed. But for crying out loud, can we take this failure with just a modicum of perspective, please? Perspective, I note parenthetically, is often the first casualty of a crisis; that’s free for coming. But no, because of his one failure, JoePa must be pilloried, scourged, demeaned, and treated with scorn and contempt henceforth and forevermore. Take that statue down! Take all those wins away! Unearth his bones and have a public spitting contest! Why, he needs to take his place with Hitler, Stalin, and Jack the Ripper!
What happened in State College is a human tragedy, for which the university community will be paying dearly for years. And JoePa’s feet of clay figure prominently into the whole scenario. But let’s not lose all sense of perspective as to the legacy of a man who, though flawed like the rest of us, is still a great man in my book.