The Rise and Fall of Joe Paterno, A Hero With Feet of Clay?
Photo by Greg Grieco
Today is the final day for people to pay their respects to Penn State icon, former football coach, Joe Paterno. Paterno will be buried Wednesday afternoon in a private ceremony. The question being asked as former players, co-workers, and Penn State students pay their respects is: Was Joe Paterno a hero and role model or an example of putting the mighty school machine above the individual.
Penn State staff and students are split on whether JoePa should have been fired for not reporting an alleged incident of child abuse to the police when administrators at Penn State did not take further action against Penn State's former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
Paterno was dismissed after a 62 season career, 46 as Penn State's head coach for not following up after making the initial report of alleged abuse to the administration. Paterno, a long time record-setting coach at Penn State, was responsible for bringing Penn State to the fore of college football. He was also a well known philanthropist and advocate for the University.
With Paterno's firing a significant split occurred between his family and the university. Whether his family and the university will heal their breech is unknown at this time. Will Paterno's legacy at Penn State be football or a morality play?
What do you think? Paterno the man? the hero? the coach? the role model? Where did he fail and why? Yes, Paterno is from a generation that didn't actively discuss child abuse. Is that an excuse? Paterno did report up the chain of command, but did he have a responsibility to take it further when they didn't? Would you want your son being coached by a man who wasn't willing to protect them from an alleged predator? Will Paterno remain a role model for young men and women who want to go into coaching sports? And did this one poor decision make him a bad man, a bad coach, a bad role model? Is Joe Paterno a hero with feet of clay?
Each individual will have to make that decision on their own. Anyone who has been a victim of child abuse will probably have a far different viewpoint than those who have enjoyed a child/young adulthood free from abuse and untouched by a predator.
In the end, Paterno was a man. Not infallible. He made decisions, some good, some bad. Maybe the most important thing we can learn from this story is to stand up for what's right, no matter the cost. Paterno paid a high price for not doing the right thing when he was faced with a co-worker being accused of alleged assault. For not following through, because it was easier to lay the blame on those higher up the chain of command.
What's lost in this story? The price paid by all the children/young adults who were allegedly assaulted. While all the students and former players are voicing their support for Joe, who is voicing their support for the children involved?
I hope our local school districts learn a lesson from this whole sad situation. Sad for those assaulted, sad for their families, sad for the college, and yes, sad for Joe Paterno, a man at the end of his illustrious career whose last days were tainted by this sad situation.
If a child comes to you with a complaint about sexual assault, please don't brush it off saying 'boys will be boys.' Or shove it up the chain of command and presume it's not your problem. Abuse is everyone's problem. Any child who brings a complaint alleging assault by a school employee or by another student within a school building deserves the support of the school district personnel. Don't brush them off. Don't shove it up the chain of command. Follow through. Don't make Joe Paterno's mistake.