Maybe it’s because 6+ years into this parenting thing, every laugh, every joke, every hand held, every kiss given, every “Daddy, watch me do this!” still melts my heart.
Or maybe it’s because of 16+ years (and counting) spent as a pastor working with, talking with, listening to, dreaming with, consoling, encouraging, praying with, praying for, playing with, and learning with children, teens and young adults (along with, you know, regular adult adults).
Or maybe I’m just a heartless bastard.
Whatever the reasons, I find that I’m with DCFS child abuse investigator, Quad City Pat and sports radio host, Dan Bernstein: Joe Paterno’s death won’t elicit tears from me.
For reasons I cannot begin to fathom, many others are crying as they go on and on about what a stand up guy Paterno was. I guess we expect that by now from former PSU football players. And there’s no doubt his family loved him and will miss him. We must allow them to grieve. But why are so many others jumping up to defend Paterno?
Twice this week in the Chicago Tribune – David Haugh on Monday, Teddy Greenstein today – sports writers seem to understand why Pat, Dan and I react as we do. And yet, they equivocate about Paterno’s legacy. (Interestingly, the headline in the print edition of Greenstein’s piece was definitive: Update (I shouldn’t have tried to quote from memory): “
Body of work overcomes one mistake” “Don’t judge Paterno’s life on one colossal mistake: Unfair to define coach solely by Sandusky scandal”; while the online version hesitates: “Can all good he did ever overcome one colossal mistake?”)
Then there’s the curious case of Shaun King. I like Shaun. I don’t know him, but from what I’ve read, I like him. He has a compelling story and has accomplished much good in the world. But he’s only half right about Paterno.
I’ll say this: King, Haugh and Greenstein are all correct about Paterno’s complexity. That’s simply the human condition. As Robert B. Parker was fond of writing, “No person is just one thing. Even Hitler liked dogs.”
King rightly points out that abuse, including child sexual abuse, happens all the time in almost all places and most of us are not doing anything about it. I agree, we are all complicit for evil in the world. Each of us must take responsibility for ourselves and our organizations, ensuring that abuse does not happen on our watch, under our roof. That’s why so many others and I are striving to abolish modern-day slavery, poverty, hunger, bullying, lack of clean, safe water… That is why so many of us are seeking justice for the oppressed.
But then, it seems to me, King missteps. He writes that only Paterno’s football victories separate him from you or me. Greenstein tries to provide cover for Paterno by saying the school administrators bear more of the blame.
That’s just not true. Joe Paterno was not Everyman.
He was a multi-millionaire, the head of a football empire, worshiped like a king by PSU people, and, almost certainly, the most powerful man in the entire state of Pennsylvania. Paterno may have reported to the administrators in some hypothetical university hierarchy, but he held all the power. In 2004, the PSU president asked him to retire. Paterno responded with, essentially, a paraphrase of Kurt Russell’s Wyatt Earp in Tombstone: “I don’t think I’ll let you fire me today.”
Paterno held all the power. As Stan Lee has so helpfully taught us, “with great power, comes great responsibility.” That’s really just a paraphrase of Jesus, whose similar words from Luke 12:48 are the title of this post.
At the very least, Paterno knew about Sandusky’s pederasty since 2002. He could have barred Sandusky from PSU facilities. He did no such thing. He passed the buck and looked away.
If Paterno had been, say, a literature professor rather than a football demagogue, would we even be having this debate? Or would he have been dismissed right away and his subsequent death gone unremarked upon? We are not all Joe Paterno. Yes, we all must protect children, but we don’t all have the power and influence that he had.
As for Haugh, he claims, “There is no wrong reaction to an icon’s death.” That’s ridiculous. Of course there is. Like, say, this. Lionizing a flawed human being helps no one.
Refusing to admit the ugly truth that child rape and molestation happened with Paterno’s tacit acceptance not only helps no one, but spits in the faces of the already horrifically victimized.
Obviously I feel strongly about this. Perhaps you do too and vehemently disagree with me. Fine. I welcome your comments. But before you do, please read the grand jury presentment regarding Sandusky. You really cannot speak intelligently about this until you have read it.
Finally, please consider this. Like Bernstein, I cried when I first heard this and again when I read it on his post:
Penn State trustee Stephanie Nolan Deviney described to the New York Times her thoughts as she left home for the meeting at State College to determine Paterno’s future.
She went to the bedroom of her seven-year old son to kiss him goodbye.
“I thought of all the mothers of all those boys in the presentment,” she said. “And I thought about what they must feel when they kiss their sons good night.”
I’m angry and I’m sad. I suspect I’ll cry again tonight when I kiss our children good night.
Then, tomorrow, I’ll get up and do all I can to fight for justice. I hope you will too.