Troubling Signs and Troubling Times: It’s Hard to Defend Joe Paterno
Any time something storied, something legendary, something steeped in deep tradition falls, the people that make up the foundation of that group look for a rallying point, someone to stand behind, stand around, and direct all the negative feelings they are experiencing into a positive blast of energy. They look for a rallying cry that, regardless of the situation, the minions will support the person in power ’til the very end.
The Penn State student body seems to have chosen Joe Paterno as their rallying point, and that’s a sad, sad thing.
Maybe it’s not fair to single out Paterno the way he has been across the national stage, since it was the actions of Jerry Sandusky who have caused this scandal, right?
Sure, if that’s the way you want to look at it. But the issues at hand, ultimately caused by Sandusky’s actions, are tied to the very core of this great university, and there is no bigger face of Penn State University than Joe Paterno. His inaction, along with inaction from multiple employees and people associated with the school, is partially why this situation has taken on the immense scope that it has nearly nine years later than it should have.
To support Paterno now is to support not righting a wrong. To support him now is to support someone who built a great program, yet acted small when a heinous act may have been committed in the very building that is symbolic of the program he helped build.
To support him now is to support someone who said repeatedly that he would leave the program when he became a distraction, and yet, at a time where distractions have reached an all-time high, has refused to step down or resign his position, remaining as quiet as he did in March of 2002, again passing the buck– this time to his son Scott– when faced with the ability and opportunity to speak out.
It’s important to note that Paterno did what was required of him legally, which is great. Our country was built on the values of a strong legal system, and the Pennsylvania district attorney’s office has declared that Paterno did what he was obligated to do legally. If you haven’t found reason enough yet to find Paterno at least somewhat culpable from a moral standpoint, consider his only public statement on the matter, which appears to greatly conflict with his grand jury testimony concerning Victim 2. To support Paterno now is to support someone who doesn’t seem sure himself as to which direction he wants to go, what exactly he wants to stand behind, or how he wants to convey it. It is the apex of confusion, the highlight of his otherwise silent presence, and depending which way Paterno decides to let the chips fall, a potential damning blemish on an otherwise proud record.
Moral obligations are a tough element to define. They go back to values, rest on culture, and are largely dependent upon personal preference and beliefs. However, regardless of this, how one can stand behind and support someone who blatantly failed at so many moral passings is troubling at best, and nearing outrageous at worst.
There have been plenty of times in Joe Paterno’s life when carrying him off the field, cheering him to victory, and rallying around his spirited cries of victory were not just merited, but respectable.
But there comes a time in every man’s life when the cheers must cease, the leadership must diminish, and the followers must revolt. That time has come for Joe Paterno.