Thursday, November 10, 2011

Morality Play

Students at Penn State are rioting because their beloved football coach, Joe Paterno, was fired for not acting nearly a decade ago when he knew that his assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, was molesting children. Pennsylvania's two U.S. senators quickly withdrew his nomination for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

His defenders cite the fact that he, himself, was not a child molester, and should therefore be held blameless. I don't agree. I feel strongly that he was wrong not to inform the police of Sandusky's ugly secret because as Edmund Burke said, "All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." He enabled heinous crimes against helpless children, so he is guilty even though he did not personally commit those crimes. Morality must begin with each of us. We are our brothers' and sisters' keepers, and decency dictates that we look out for those who cannot protect themselves.

Our country is rapidly eroding every sense of responsibility for others and becoming an arid place in which people care only for themselves and their own families. This is not only profoundly unconscionable, it is impractical; we cannot continue for long in a climate of every man for himself (and the devil take the hindmost.)

No one would dispute that it's sad to see a man with great leadership abilities, a living legend esteemed by many, go down in flames. But blaming the University for destroying Paterno's legacy begs the issue. No one can destroy another's legacy. He did that himself by not acting impeccably for all those years in which numerous children were abused. Paterno sowed the seeds of his own destruction. Poison cannot be contained in one aspect of ones life and hidden away from the light forever. It festers and seeps out, gradually infesting everything one does, rotting from within.

This story has epic qualities like a Greek tragedy or an Arthur Miller play, but everyone's life is epic, whether played out on a ball field in front of millions, or lived quietly away from the spotlight. Every human life offers the same choices, no matter how they are presented: Do we do what is right and honorable or do we not? Like Joe Paterno, we are always free to choose, but we should remember that those choices, large and small, will confront us sooner or later. The consequences we experience are always up to us. Life may seem unfair, but it isn't. We get what we deserve. We are not punished for our sins, but by them.

"Do good with what thou hast, or it will do thee no good." William Penn, Founder of Pennsylvania.


e said...

Though I agree with most of what you say, life is indeed unfair and not everyone gets as he or she deserves. Your own situation bears witness to this.

Paterno probably felt he was protecting the university but no institution or individual should come before or compromise the rights of children to grow up free from physical, emotional or psychological threat or abuse.

secret agent woman said...

They were right to fire him. Paterno was in a position to intervene and actively chose not to. He is, in my mind, like the mother who willfully turns a blind eye when her husband molests their children.

seventh sister said...

Not only did Paterno not report it, but he kept the guy around. I'm not sorry to see him get fired.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


A coach also has great influence on young people, and he utterly failed to set a good example, no matter how many winning seasons he gave Penn.


It seems that many people were in a position to intervene, and all of them failed to do so. What kind of culture causes such widescale blindness?


Nor am I. The safety of children is far more important than football.

Sextant said...

Well I was thinking about posting this myself.

I could care less about college football or NFL football for that matter, but I always had a deep respect for Joe Paterno because he did it right, football was important, but secondary to the academic purpose of the school. The team had to maintain academic performance and Paterno made large donations to Penn State's Library. Well all that has been shattered, and like you say it is something of a Greek tragedy. However a ten year old child being raped by an adult male is beyond measurement in the theatrical tragedy scales.

I read a graphic description of what the graduate student reported to Paterno and Paterno reported to his managers. It nauseated me. Go to the police? I think I would have been tempted to go visit Sanduski with a good sharp butcher knife.

So to the students who choose to riot of Paterno's firing, what your saying is Penn State Football is more important than the continual rapes of 10 year old children.

Here is a time line of events:

Some of these kids were only 7 years old. When you look at how many times there was an opportunity to stop this, it appears that a lot more people than just Paterno dropped the ball here. This is disgusting. It is just another example of how society holds sports figures as demigods above the law and normal human decency.

I am ashamed to be a resident of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Taradharma said...

thank you for an excellent post. Couldn't have said it better myself. I am too outraged and saddened to develop a cogent post on this. I just had a rant.

There is so much to be said here. I fear that there are many more victims of this pedophile and his enables. This kind of criminal usually lays waste to many, many lives.

I ask myself: what is the appropriate punishment for such a crime? The words to Bruce Cockburn's song "If I had rocket launcher" come to my mind..."some son of a bitch would die."

Paula said...

Thank you for writing about this. He deserved to be fired. Anyone who works in education or medicine is pretty much a legally mandated reporter of such things. If the law is not that way in PA, he still had a moral obligation. I have been troubled by the protestors. "Back in the day", we protested to stop a war or the poisoning of the environment. I can't believe they are wasting themselves protesting the just firing of this man. Is football really the most important thing to them? Plus they are not keeping their protest non violent.

nick said...

They were right to fire him. I assume he had not just a moral or social obligation to pass on the information but a legal one. In the UK aiding and abetting a crime is an offence, be it ignoring a drunk driver, allowing a theft or whatever. Anyone who knows a crime is being committed is implicated unless they tell the appropriate authorities about it.

the walking man said...

He should be jailed as an accessory after the fact as should every member of that coaching staff and administration who knew or was told about it.

Anonymous said...

Once again the tragic effects of sin stains many lives. I am just sadden by the whole thing.

The coach may have a reputation of putting studies before sports but it would seem sports still trumped other concerns like the lives of children. I am saddened that such a reputable coach made such a bad choice.

English Rider said...

I agree with you completely. I feel it's even worse because this man's role in life included taking responsibility for the well-being of the young people around him. The fact that anyone defends him, or thinks he should not be chastised is another example of disparate rules and consequences for wealthy, famous or powerful people.
I've also been wondering why the assistant who witnessed these molestations did not run screaming into the midst of what was going on and get those kids out of there immediately.
Then there's the University who simply banned underage children from being on the premises, insinuating it was O.K. to rape a few boys just not anywhere around them.
My blood boils.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


First of all, you are not responsible for every misdeed which occurs in PA, as you know, so your shame is misplaced. However, crimes like these make me ashamed to be a member of the human race with its vast capacity to be evil, self-serving and vile. It's shocking that so many people could have dropped the ball on this disgusting behavior. I also suspect that the presently known facts in this case are the tip of a very large iceberg in terms of numbers, both children victimized and adults who were complicit in these sordid deeds by looking the other way.


Rocket launchers are too easy. I really prefer to think of Sandusky enduring prison justice which I've heard always befalls those with "short eyes."


I think you're right on all counts. Whether or not there is an actual legal requirement to report such things, there is certainly a moral one, and many people failed these children. I also agree about the protests, which serve to demonstrate how morally bankrupt so many students are, which is not surprising considering the lack of decent role models.


I think Paterno's behavior is in the nature of an accessory after the fact. And if there is a term for his complicity in acts committed AFTER he became aware, he is guilty of that, too.


Yes. We are completely in tune here. They should all be held accountable, no matter how inconvenient and embarrassing to the University.


He apparently cared only about the kids on his teams, and that is simply horrifying. There is no excuse for such negligence, which had such ghastly effects on all those young lives and their families.


There were so many opportunities to put a stop to the whole abusive mess, and nobody cared enough to do so. The whole thing is simply mind-boggling. If I were the mother of one of those children, I would be in jail right now for murder.

Molly said...

Shades of bishops turning blind eyes. Thank God for karma....It eventually catches up with them.

Claudia said...

"Our country is rapidly eroding every sense of responsibility for others and becoming an arid place in which people care only for themselves and their own families."

I couldn't agree with this more. I'm not sure who we got into this place, but here we are. I wish I knew how to get out of it.

meno said...

Oh how we bow before the mighty god of football, excluding any other considerations. Yuck. He deserved firing and possibly worse.

Anonymous said...

If Mr. Paterno's rep is going down in flames he has only himself to blame for both cowardice and missplaced loyalty.

seventh sister said...

It appears that the state law in Penn states that such supicions must be reported to a superior at a school. However, as the governor has said, that doesn't mean there was no moral obligation. According to the law, Paterno and the others did what they were required to do. I agree with the governor.

Cloudia said...

" Our country is rapidly eroding every sense of responsibility for others and becoming an arid place in which people care only for themselves and their own families. This is not only profoundly unconscionable, it is impractical; we cannot continue for long in a climate of every man for himself (and the devil take the hindmost.) "


Aloha from Honolulu

Comfort Spiral

> < } } ( ° >


heartinsanfrancisco said...


Sadly, yes. That is true. So many adults are miserable failures at protecting the children, which should be their primary job.


It won't be easy for an entire society to change direction as inertia is a very strong force, and many people seem to take a short-sighted view. I am worried about the world our children will inherit.


There should be more severe penalties for inaction, which can be just as bad as wrong actions.


I agree about misplaced loyalty, although I suspect his main loyalty was to JokePa and not rocking his very cushy boat.


There is always a moral obligation which in my view, trumps legal ones.


Thank you. Aloha.

the walking man said...

Susan I have linked the grand jury indictment on my blog...I can't leave it here because the address is a PDF and doesn't seem to copy and paste as a normal address would.

The indictment s pretty graphic but it also spells out who the grand jury believed was lying their ass off and who was telling the truth. And in every case they believed the victims (numbered not named)and not the administration NAMED not numbered.

It bothers the shit out of me that they had full stands at Saturdays game. People are for the most part bat shit crazy and have no sense of morality!

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I think that many people do not have what used to be called "the courage of their convictions." They know right from wrong, but are not willing to let it inconvenience them. So maybe convictions should be called "leanings" or even "intimations."

The whole mess in PA is repulsive, and those who stood by and waited for someone else to blow the whistle are learning that doing nothing was not nearly good enough.

PeterAtLarge said...

Well said. Systems and institutions are set up to protect themselves. We individuals must do better. Paterno, as I see it, chose to put the institution ahead of personal responsibility at a moment--and for years!--when individual moral judgment was required.

Jocelyn said...

I'm at the point of complete bafflement when it comes to such atrocities as this going unchecked. Something in it all feels very Old Boy/Old School, and my gut tells me that stuff is "over." Clearly, however, it's not. It sickens me. Those poor kids.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


He made a grievous error in judgment, and ended up enabling many more children to be brutalized. Achievement without compassion matters little when a life is summed up.


It sickens me, too. There is no possible way this was acceptable behavior on the part of anyone involved. They all dropped the ball.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

AMEN. I know that I could not have said any of that any better, but as always, I agree whole heartedly with your every position.

What a bastard, and yes, he should be deposed and, thankfully, has been.

It's appalling that any of the students, past and present, would rebel against his removal - just shocking that anyone thinks otherwise.

What's that old saying... they think morals are paintings on walls? Pretty pictures.

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

Anonymous said...

Paterno was not an abuser - but it looks as though he aided and abetted an abuser. What should we call that? Accessory after the fact?

heartinsanfrancisco said...


That is as close as I can come to defining any charges that might be brought against him. It was not Paterno's finest moment, especially since it continued for years.