When I last wrote about the Penn State mess, in case you did not pick up on it, I was angry. The longer I wrote, the angrier I became. Actually, I started out feeling sympathetic toward Coach Paterno. Before I finished, I had no feeling of sympathy for anyone but the children who were abused, who had their lives shattered by someone they trusted and then watched as the abuser’s actions were ignored by others that could have/should have stopped him.
We all have different methods of learning. Most are a combination of watching, doing, and listening. For me, if I write some sort of an outline of the material I am studying, the material becomes clearer and the ideas contained in the material seem to pop out. As I started writing my last post, I reread the Grand Jury Report that led to the arrests of the first three men, hopefully the first three of many to come, involved in this nightmare of unbelievable proportions.
As I said, I started with a sympathetic attitude toward Coach Paterno. At sometime in my life, if I can remember back far enough, high school and college sports, especially football, held a prominent place on my list of “most important things in life.” Coach Paterno was always an important man. He became an assistant coach at Penn State in 1950; I was six years old. When I was in high school, he was the heir apparent to the head-coaching job there and did, indeed, become head coach a few years after I left high school. He was the head-coach at Penn State during the time I was a young adult, throughout my entire career, and seven years after my retirement, until scandal brought his career to an end. In my eyes, throughout my entire life, he has been a giant.
I grew up in a steel, now rust, town that was part of the historic football fanatic area that includes Canton, Massillon, Akron, and Youngstown in Northeastern Ohio and Aliquippa, And the towns in and around Beaver County Pennsylvania. It was not at all unusual to see college recruiters at the first practice session of the year and every practice and game for the entire year. As an assistant coach at Penn State, Coach Paterno would personally visit schools, usually to see a certain player but at times just to see what might be coming down the pike.
So Joe Paterno has been a part of my world for most of my life. To realize that the giant, a man who preached ethical behavior, a hero in your eyes has turned out to be less than perfect, his moral actions, in critical situations, less than what you would have expected from him has been as traumatic as learning that there really was no Santa Claus. As I watched Coach Paterno fall, it was through the eyes of a young man learning that sometimes, men’s actions are not as honorable, moral, ethical as his words.
So, I must say goodbye to the Joe Paterno that I have, respected and in that way that young men feel about their role models, loved for a lifetime. I must have had him mixed up with someone else. The stench of this scandal even seems to sully the memories of those Friday nights and Saturday afternoons when we believed that some men were special, were heroes, were men we could trust, but in the end they turned out to be just…men.
I pray that the young men who had their lives shattered as little boys will be able to find the help that will allow them to build a normal life and to know for sure that what happened to them was not their fault. I cannot even imagine their pain. I hope that now their pain can be eased and the perpetrators of this injustice can feel their own pain.
More about Penn State some other day.