Saturday, July 14, 2012

Paterno was never worthy of blind loyalty

Joe Paterno
By John McMullen
jmcmullen@phanaticmag.com

PHILADELPHIA (The Phanatic Magazine) - An easy answer is not necessarily the right one.

The long-awaited results of former FBI director Louis Freeh's internal investigation into the Jerry Sandusky child- sex abuse case at Penn State condemned a large number of university leaders, none more so than the late Joe Paterno.

"Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State," the 267-page report, released Thursday, says.

"The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized."

Sandusky, of course, was found guilty last month on 45 of the 48 counts charging him with sexual abuse against 10 boys over a 15-year period. Paterno, along with Gary Schultz, the former senior vice president of finance and business, and Tim Curley, the athletic director, covered it up.

The easy answer here would be to close the book on a evil man along with some flawed ones but just as there is no pure good, there is no pure evil.

The worst tyrants in history can be humanized in certain moments and the best of us will fall and fail on more than one occasion. That's simply common sense, yet few of us seem to recognize it or perhaps don't want too.

Pure evil can explain Sandusky. Understanding he was a human being with a defect the vast majority of us find abhorrent is closer to the truth but tougher to come to grips with and it requires the type of lucid thinking the victims of his behavior and their families will never be able to attain.

Similarly, holding a football coach, any football coach, up to a standard that we don't expect of our priests, politicians or own role models is a frightening suspension of disbelief, yet one that tens of thousands of educated Penn State faithful did for decades without batting an eye.

I knew what the Freeh Report would contain long before it was released to the public because as a member of the media, I had the luxury of knowing a few people close to the Penn State program.

At the end Paterno was as he appeared to anyone who never slipped on the Blue and White glasses, he was a curmudgeonly old man obsessed with a legacy which was already withering since he was no longer the one thing he truly deserved credit for -- an excellent coach.

He was about himself first and Penn State football second. Abused children be damned, go to the back of the line with everyone else.

Obsessing over your own legacy to that degree is the type of hubris which should disqualify anyone from deification.

To be fair, it's not like Paterno approved of children being molested. He likely found it just as disgusting as the rest of us. Stopping it, however, wasn't as important as his reputation or his program's standing in the public eye.

Paterno had absolute power in State College and it's never corrupted more absolutely.

To the day he died Paterno was still trying to convince the Washington Post's Sally Jenkins that his legend was true even as the Freeh Report loomed like the sword of Damocles.

Paterno spent a lifetime fooling people and probably figured his acolytes could take the baton after the Jenkins interview and move forward seamlessly.

By creating a pseudo-religion in Central Pennsylvania and cloaking himself in it as the flawless leader, Paterno may have even convinced himself of his own greatness and the fact that his legend, his legacy would have to be protected for the greater good.

Explanations really don't matter, however. Whatever your take, learn from this.

Joe Paterno was a man, a mortal man not worthy of your idol worship whether Jerry Sandusky existed or not.
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