Saturday, January 28, 2012

To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men

I’m not here to ruffle any feathers or upset apple carts, but then again, I’m not here to remain silent on an issue that bothers me quite a lot.  In fact, it’s people remaining silent about issues that should have bothered them quite a lot that really has me going.

Sandusky and Paterno
It’s about Joe Paterno and his legacy, the image of his life that is being discussed so much these days.  You know the deal. He had an assistant coach who allegedly was buggering, fondling, showering and engaging in horseplay with young boys in the Penn State football building.  A young assistant coach saw a young man being raped in the shower one night, the story goes, and reported it to Coach Paterno.

Coach Paterno did something about it, all right.  He immediately went to his higher-ups (as if he had any) and suggested that they might want to be aware of this ineffable enormity going on in the football building.  But hey, guys, let’s not make a big thing of this, what with the road trip to play Wisconsin this weekend, and of course, we don’t want to mess up our chance to get invited to the Chili Bowl in January.  Team comes first, right?

I am always reminded of something I did in high school.  At our school bus stop, there was a house with a garage, and the neighbors allowed us to hang out in the garage on rainy days to keep us and our cigarettes dry for school.  One time we were in that garage on a snowy morning and the bus came along.  The bus didn’t see us at the stop so the driver slowed down and looked.  To our collective shame, we just sort of looked around and whispered, “Wait! Stop!” so that we could go home and claim that the bus left us behind - even though we said “Wait! Stop!”  That’s how much emphasis old Paterno apparently put into going to the big wigs at Penn State, when he knew this awfulness was going on. 

So the awfulness continued to go on for years.  We always hear that sins will be found out.  While Paterno and his football team won game after game, young man after young man was forced to submit to the Satanic iniquities of coach Sandusky.   And not until just after Paterno set the record for most wins by a coach at a major college last fall did the terrible truth come out. He stood there on the sidelines, or sat there in the press box as he wound up doing in his final games, coaching the team, knowing full well that he had had a violent predator on his staff, and he did nothing but smile and pretend nothing was wrong.

After all that went on in that damned building came to light, the school did the only thing they could do about a man who saw evil and played it off lightly.  They fired him, which enraged that segment of the student body and the team’s fans that could not differentiate between right and wrong and how to report the latter.  A mature individual with a functioning moral compass sees a young man being raped by a football coach, and hollers loud and long until someone makes it stop. For Paterno to report it in such a desultory manner and then continue to walk onfield every week and coach a team in the name of Penn State was to ignore the tragedy that occurred in his domain – a tragedy that he could have stopped.

A week before his death, Paterno gave an interview to the Washington Post in which he tried to clear up his image by playing ‘dumb old man.’ To the Post, he claimed that he had never seen anything like this before: “And then I called my superiors and I said: ‘Hey, we got a problem, I think. Would you guys look into it?’ Cause I didn’t know, you know. We never had, until that point, 58 years I think, I had never had to deal with something like that. And I didn’t feel adequate.”

Hey, we got a problem, I think.

“And to be frank with you I don’t know that it would have done any good, because I never heard of, of, rape and a man. So I just did what I thought was best.”

Joe Paterno, known as “JoePa,” presented that paternal image that people found so adorable.  He had three sons and a daughter.  Do you kind of think that maybe if he had seen one of his kids being violated in a shower that he might have, you know, known what to do or how to feel?  Did he really think that doing nothing was acceptable?

Anyway, that’s his story, and I wouldn’t even still be talking about him except for this.  People were talking about him on the news the other night as they gathered for his funeral, and one former player said how old JoePa cared more about what kind of men his players were than what kind of players his men were.

And yet his actions would not seem to bear that out.  It seemed that winning football games meant more to him than the physical and mental wellbeing of Sandusky’s victims.

One final thing: the night that Paterno was given a message to call the vice-chairman of trustees for Penn State and when he did so, he got the news that in the best interests of the university, he had been fired.

And then his wife picked up the phone, called that vice-chairman herself, and said, “After 61 years, he deserved better.”

So did those young men.  So did those young men.  Joe should have done better by them. He had one final chance in that Post interview to say that, but he stuck with his "I don't know, you know?" stance til the end.


splendid said...

I appreciate your words on this Mark.
I agree that we all are accountable for our own actions and inactions. The prestige meant more to Paterno than those men's lives.He should be remembered for that.

Mark said...

Thank you; I appreciate your support. Living so close to Pennsylvania, I know I risked angering a lot of friends, but I have to keep thinking about those victims.