It was this past Saturday night when Joe Paterno was first reported dead. It was a bizarre twist because he was still alive but the Internet was already buzzing with the story. CBS Sports, People magazine, and the Toronto newspaper “reported” it.
I remember feeling affected. Respect for his many good deeds and interest in the complexity of the story were behind my emotions.
But with a few days passing I have put the events of the last year into perspective. This, by Brian Cook at MGoBlog is fairly close to right on. Joe Paterno will be remembered most of all for the Jerry Sandusky scandal and his forced departure from Penn State. There are no ifs, ands, or buts. That is how it ended.
No, that isn’t how he died, but he chose to stay as coach too long–into his mid eighties–and his firing and death were close to simultaneous.
Personally, I am skeptical of the concept of loyalty and I am downright repulsed by instances of “blind” loyalty. I mean, there are better words for it–words like devotion, love, admiration, and mentoring. Mature adults need to know better and need to be responsible for their own actions. Doing wrong over the course of many years (or even many days, weeks, or months) is not a mistake, human error, or “screw up.” An eighty-four year-old should know better.
There is a reason why people in Joe Paterno’s shoes are called mandatory reporters and the law doesn’t say anything about thirty-year assistant coaches being exempt.
Joe Paterno had been referred to as “the most powerful person in Pennsylvania.” He had the means to do the right thing. After the first known victim he had the means to prevent all subsequent damage.
Like a tragic hero that was his flaw: loyalty.