Joe Paterno passed away today. Normally I don't get to involved with football, but this one has been on my mind all day. He had cancer, and some complications from treatment, but how much did the events of last fall impact his ability to recover? Had this scandal not been discovered, would he have had more energy to tackle the disease within? It is possible that months of stress and public embarrassment wore down his immune system to the point that, at age 85, he just didn't have it in him to fight any more. It is also possible that nothing in the outside world could have changed the direction of his disease-- as we all know too well, the Big C does not play favorites. This is something that probably won't be covered by the 24 hour news cycle.... but I wonder, nonetheless.
We all know the story: Paterno held his players to a high standard of ethics, academics, and athleticism. And yet, he worked side by side with an alleged child molester for years, and when someone told him they had witnessed the abuse in action, he forwarded the info... but not to the police. And that decision, sadly, will be a huge part of his legacy.
It reminds me again of the story I've heard told about Bob Kerrey. As a young man he was a Navy SEAL serving in Vietnam, and he not surprisingly regrets some of the choices he made. He supposedly said a man is not judged by his worst day but by his best, or something to that effect.
It is not that simple; nothing important ever is. Paterno is in no way implicated in being involved in any of the abuse. His assistant coach Sandusky is reported to have been molesting boys he met through the
charitable foundation he created to help needy children-- if it's possible to be even more evil than someone who leaves a child with scars it is someone who creates a public front of doing good things for the very kids he's scarring. By all accounts, JoePa was disgusted with Sandusky... but also with himself for allowing it to continue. And yet, Paterno ad his wife donated millions of dollars to Penn State and helped hundreds of his athletes become better people. The math overwhelmingly points to his ethical reputation... and yet, that one act of silence tips the scales pretty far.
We all have made-- and will make-- decisions of which we are not proud. I hope we learn from them and are supported by those around us as we try to move forward with our lives. Some actions are easier to forgive, and some very hard to forget. The sad truth is there is no concrete right or wrong answer to many of these dilemmas. My hope is that my reputation buys me some benefit of the doubt, and that I can look myself in the mirror at the end of the day.
Out here in the cheap seats, I have an easy time forgiving Kerrey's situation; war is hell, and what happens there cannot be judged in the same light as if it happened at home. Letting an issue get swept
under the rug in your own backyard that potentially exposed multiple children to 9 more years of
abuse... well, I'm having a harder time forgetting about his worst day. Luckily for me, it is not my place to judge. In the end, we are all just human, and we all make mistakes. I hope you were at peace before you left this earth, and that peace follows you to wherever you are now... and that those of us left behind can learn from your life.