You watch. Now that they've canned Joe Paterno, they'll pull the statue down at Penn State. And once they do, moralizing media folk will up and stomp all over it, just like the Iraqis did to Saddam Hussein.
What is it that rankles me about Penn State firing the 84 year old Nittany Lions head coach? Why should it even register? I don't know anything about college football, and had you asked me a month ago who Joe Paterno is, I would have drawn a blank. That is, until he became national villain of the week....the top, if not the only, news story for that short time. Then everybody knew who he was, even me.
It was Gunsmoke's Matt Dillon, believe it or not, who put this all into focus for me. ME TV runs that old show locally for the benefit of those steadily closing in on geezerhood... guys like me. A recent episode features a “strict, but honest” agent from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, who has stirred up all kinds of mischief toward local Indians. At show's end, however, he has an epiphany. Why... he's been wrong all along....the Indians are in the right! Full of remorse, he tells Marshall Matt Dillon that he'll tender his resignation to the Bureau tomorrow. But Matt replies something like.....get this....."I don't think that will be necessary. It takes a big man to admit he was wrong, and it looks to me that you're just the right man for this job.”
That would never happen today. Back when that show was filmed you could blunder for the longest time, yet be redeemed in a second by heartfelt repentance. Today it's the exact opposite. You can serve nobly for the longest time, yet be trashed without redemption for a single misstep. Isn't that why nobody knows anything today? One mistake in word or deed, and it's “off with his head!” leaving only inexperienced clods running the show.
Now, Joe Paterno's decades-long performance as Penn State's head coach has been impeccable, without blemish. Nobody says otherwise. In a world routinely rocked by scandal and exploitation, he's kept his program clean. A few excerpts on the man, from the website GoPSUSports.com:
"He's putting together this winning program, but meanwhile he's teaching 17-, 18-, 19-year olds how not to screw their lives up, how important education is, how important it is to have social acumen," All-America linebacker Greg Buttle told the San Antonio Express-News in 2007.
Obviously not a person of misplaced priorities, Paterno always has concentrated on seeing that his student-athletes attend class, devote the proper time to studies and graduate with a meaningful degree. He often has said he measures team success not by athletic prowess but by the number of productive citizens who make a contribution to society.
He is, simply put, the most successful coach in the history of college football -- a fact that was validated during the 2001 season when he moved past Paul "Bear" Bryant to become the leader in career wins by a major college coach. He also is one of the most admired figures in college athletics, an acknowledged icon whose influence extends well beyond the white chalk lines of the football field.
In an exceptional display of generosity and affection for Penn State, Paterno; his wife, Sue, and their five children announced a contribution of $3.5 million to the University in 1998, bringing Paterno's lifetime giving total to more than $4 million. The gift was believed to be, Penn State Vice President for Development Rod Kirsch said, "the most generous ever made by a collegiate coach and his family to a university.
Okay. Got it? He's a good guy. A role model. A name you could fling back at smart-alecks when they tell you smugly that “nice guys always finish last.” What could possibly cause a man like this to be sacked in disgrace?
Joe's sin is that he heard an allegation of child sexual abuse nine years ago and reported it to his bosses, as he was legally obligated to do. But now, nine years later, the report appears to be true. An assistant coach running a separate private charity is accused of abusing seven children....maybe more. As though Joe should have foreseen this, the charge is made: why didn't he do more? Why didn't he go straight to the police with the allegation, Surely.....hang whatever the law says.....going just to his bosses was not enough!
Today in the United States, tracking down pedophiles has become a national obsession, if not hysteria. They're not easy to track. Pedophiles don't drool or act perverted. They fit right in with respectable society. And they are seemingly everywhere. Now one has been found right among Penn State's own staff. So Joe is out. He should have known, he should have acted, he should have gone beyond the law, so the feeling goes.
What of his sterling record? USA Today calls him a “man who set the standard for ethical behavior in the tawdry world of college football,” and “he kept the program's reputation clean — remarkably so for a program that made its home in the national ranking” for all of his 46 year tenure. Doesn't mean a thing.
What of his remorse? "This is a tragedy," he's said. "It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more." Doesn't cut it, Joe. This is not a Matt Dillon Gunsmoke world. This is a new “gotcha” world, where folks delight in taking down public figures.
What of loyalty for past service? Not a bit of it. Tolerance for human error or weakness? Nope.
What of this verse? Doesn't it apply somehow: "Why, then, do you look at the straw in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the rafter in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Allow me to extract the straw from your eye’; when, look! a rafter is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First extract the rafter from your own eye, and then you will see clearly how to extract the straw from your brother’s eye." (Matt 7:3-5) No, it doesn't apply. Not anymore. People do nothing but point fingers today, totally ignoring (as everyone's mother used to say) that when you point a finger, three fingers are pointing back at you.
When news broke that Joe had been fired, those who knew him best, those who'd been most positively influenced by his lifelong integrity...namely, the Penn State student body....responded in a quite predictable way: they rioted. Mobs of kids took to the streets shouting “We want Joe!” They pulled down lampposts. They overturned a TV truck, thinking (probably correctly) that it represented those hoping to turn local events into a national circus. It took cops in riot gear to send everyone home.
Now, the other side of the coin is the ongoing battle to stamp out child abuse. And don't get me wrong. It's a worthy battle. No one's saying that those who molest children ought not be punished. No one's saying that those legally obligated to report allegations ought not be called to account if they fail to do it. Joe acquits himself well here. His flaw is not legal, for he did everything legally required. His flaw is said to be “moral,” since the legal answer didn't take the alleged pedophile out of circulation. Moreover you run a huge risk defending anyone who's perceived to have fallen short in any way in the fight against child sexual abuse. “So you approve of child sexual abuse yourself, do you, Sheepandgoats?” they'll say. “Are you also a pervert?” Or, what about the people you hang out with? Do they approve of perverts?” I tell you, it's risky. The media certainly took no such risks. They scolded Joe at every turn, overlooking his irreproachable career, overlooking the three fingers pointing back at themselves.
But there's a reason you turn a “moral” obligation into a legal one. It's because the “moral” course to take is often highly subjective. People don't reach identical conclusions. Harping on one's “moral” obligation allows for Monday morning quarterbacks to attribute motives...invariably bad ones....though they know nothing of the actual circumstances. All Joe did was fail to relate an inspecific allegation directly to the police. I don't like to assume that when someone does that it betrays that they don't give a hoot about protecting kids. After all, people routinely ignore warnings when their own lives are at stake...evacuation orders in the face of impending natural disaster, for instance. God help us if we someday decide automatically notifying police is the gold standard in other arenas of life, say in the event of a traffic accident. It won't be enough to assume one of the ten cars already stopped will have called 911. You'll also have to stop and do it yourself, or else fail your “moral” obligation and have your license revoked.
Anyone my age remembers when you never ever heard of child sexual abuse, and thus assumed it didn't happen. And how within ten years, proven allegations had vaulted it to chief national evil, eclipsing any other wrongdoing. I mean, it took a staggeringly short time to go from unheard of to #1. Now, I don't disparage it's newly revised status...I really don't, but people don't turn on a dime. And the older the person is, the more time the pivot takes. I can readily picture Joe saying “Look, I'm not a pervert. I don't like perverts. I don't hang out with perverts. I never knew there were many perverts. And yet now all of us are on “pervert alert,” with everybody under suspicion!” Now, as it turns out, we are on pervert alert here, but it takes an 84 year old awhile to get his head around it. For crying out loud, Joe remembers (as do I) when you swam nude in the YMCA pool, boys and men alike, with no thought of impropriety whatsoever. A letter (11/16/11) to USA Today states: I'm sure my father would have done exactly as Paterno did [being a product of his time], notifying only his superiors, and he also probably would be as dumbfounded about the outcome of events as Paterno might be.” Yep. Same with my dad.
The times they are a changing, and you'd better keep up. That's Paterno's real sin: being a relic of the past. Seething with moral outrage, USA Today asks searing (in their opinion) questions, such as “Why didn't Paterno notify law enforcement of the 2002 shower-room incident? Was he protecting his saintly image as "JoePa"...." [No you moralizing idiots! If he was protecting his saintly image, he would have reported it, for nothing is more saintly these days then turning in a molester. And he did turn him in, so he likely thought, by relating it to the ones with legal responsibility.]
The newspaper continues: "Or was he blinded by a 30-year friendship with Sandusky and unable to believe he could do such a thing?” Notice here how friendship is portrayed as a flaw, as if life would be so much better if we dropped that antiquated custom and treated everyone as a suspect. Look, sometimes friendship can blind one to the faults of another, perhaps it did so in this case, but it will be a sad [though predictable] day if we fail to cut a person slack for that shortcoming.
But the thinking that prevails today is expressed in another letter (also 11/16/11) to USA Today: “I find it heartbreaking that those college kids reacted to finding out that their hero inadequately addressed allegations of child abuse by rioting in support of him instead of rising up against him. [rising up against him! Why not also lynch him?] As a base human reaction, that is disgusting.” Another source says that, instead of defending Joe, they should have been aghast for the seven victims. Yes, that's how people think today.
But it's just possible that those students, the ones who knew Joe best, realized 1) that Joe's role in the abuse was zero, and his role otherwise, if he even had one, was very limited, 2) that he apologized sincerely, 3) that he has four and a half decades of sterling service to his credit, plus 4) he's given millions of dollars to both university and community in his lifetime, 5) that tens of thousands of people die each day, butchered or starved through human depravity, with no one at all held accountable. And perhaps even 6) that they themselves will graduate tens of thousands of dollars in debt with few job prospects in sight, victims of a worldwide fraud, also with no one being held accountable, fraud aided and abetted by today's leaders. In other words, those seven victims, bad as the crimes against them are, are hardly the only ones victimized by human wickedness, so as to be the undisputed focus of national attention.
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Starting with Prince, a fierce and frolicking defense of Jehovah’s Witnesses. A riotous romp through their way of life. “We have become a theatrical spectacle in the world, and to angels and to men,” the Bible verse says. That being the case, let’s give them some theater! Let’s skewer the liars who slander the Christ! Let’s pull down the house on the axis lords! Let the seed-pickers unite!