Thursday, November 10, 2011
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.