Joe-Pa … July 13, 2012

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1998.

I remember it well. It was a much different time in our nation. There was no 9/11. A war in Iraq was not viewed as an extended conflict costing billions of dollars and countless lives, but rather, a skirmish which we won, driving Hussein back to Baghdad.

There was more playfulness in the air–a devil-may-care, if you will. Howard Stern was considered to be a little bit risqué, but was also lauded with praises for his artistic feats.

And in the White House there was a scandal. It was discovered and exposed that the President of the United States was having sexual relations with a twenty-one-year-old intern named Monica Lewinsky. This particular indiscretion was not confessed by President Clinton, but uncovered by a series of news reports, which provided more and more additional, irrefutable details. Many people in the nation felt that the President had defiled the country–especially since the trysts occurred in the Oval Office–and these outraged individuals contended that he had disgraced the office, similar to the caretaker of the orphanage urinating in the daily porridge served to the children who were dying of cancer and had just found out that their surprise trip to Disney World was cancelled.

Still, with all that outcry and a lack of forthcoming information from the President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton not only survived the scandal, but finished out his term and is now generally regarded as an excellent pundit and arguably an example of American leadership.

At the same time, in 1998, Coach Joe Paterno faced a dilemma. He was America’s straight arrow. He was the symbol of “no-nonsense,” “taking care of business” and “you’d better not mess with me OR the rules.” He looked on his football team as a unit without stars, even insisting that their uniforms be as plain as possible, with no names ever appearing on the jerseys. He was America’s father, who coached a football team, and from behind his thick-lensed, black, horn-rimmed glasses, he demanded purity and devotion.

Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Joe Patern...

Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Joe Paterno on the sideline during warmups prior to the 2006 Homecoming game versus the University of Illinois on Friday, October 20, 2006. Taken by me. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One day a report came into his office that Jerry Sandusky had been caught fondling a young boy in the shower room. Now, you must understand–the coach, fondly referred to as Joe-Pa, knew that his friend, Jerry Sandusky, was a goofball.We all have one. We all know one. Sometimes it’s a family member. Often it’s a friend we met along the way who attached himself to us, and even though we believe him to be less than perfect, we allow him to hang around because we don’t have the heart to send him away.

Joe Paterno knew that Jerry Sandusky was less than sound. But Joe Paterno also believed in his own reputation. He believed that he was the symbol of integrity and morality in the NCAA. He had no reason to doubt that his decisions, which up to this point had been resoundingly praised, would be equally as appreciated by what he attempted to achieve by maintaining his friendship with his goofball, Jerry.

Joe Paterno took three separate thoughts, which individually might have value, but collectively, ended up being a devastating lie.

1. I am in a position to decide what’s best. Actually, my friends, no one is in that position. Here’s the truth–the best has already been decided and if you don’t know what it is, pick up a history book or any volume containing the rules and regulations of basic human decency. Your amendments, additions and opinions don’t really matter much. The best has been decided. You either honor it or attempt to change it at your own peril.

2. People can’t handle the truth. There is a great fear in all of us that if who we are were revealed, we would not only lose our status, but would be relegated to caves and treated as lepers. Not so. Most of us would be astounded at how little other people care about our internal workings, especially when we are willing to admit our foibles aloud and face the music. Joe-Pa thought he knew Penn State. Joe-Pa thought he knew Pennsylvania. Joe-Pa thought he knew ESPN. Joe-Pa thought he knew America. What Joe-Pa didn’t stop to realize was that the horror and anguish to a young, emerging male being of raped in a locker room continues to scream out at the world all around us for years to come. He didn’t place himself in that shower stall and become that little fellow. Instead, he decided for everyone what they could handle and what they could not.

3. He followed an American tradition–a false one, mind you–that it’s better that a few suffer than many lose out. It’s the same philosophy that a high priest named Caiaphas presented when describing how he thought the death of Jesus of Nazareth would keep the Jewish race from being attacked by the Romans. He was wrong. And Joe-Pa was wrong to think that trying to quietly muffle the cries of the victims of goofball Jerry Sandusky’s insane mental disease was going to be acceptable because it kept the university from being embarrassed and the program he had forged with his own hands from becoming tarnished.

What I want you to understand today is that individually, each and every one of us might come to the same conclusions that Joe Paterno did.

  • We might think that we have the right to decide what’s best.
  • We might assume that the people around us can’t handle the truth.
  • And we might believe it’s more magnanimous to save the rights and privileges of many students by ignoring the pain of the afflicted few.

It might even sound noble to us. It certainly would make us feel that we were being generous of spirit, forward thinking and broad-minded.

Of course, we would be wrong.

There’s only one thing to do when you discover that hell has entered your sanctuary–stop the singing and prayers, and point to the evil. It may ruin the worship service; it may cause the love offering to diminish. You might have to actually take off the holy robes and cease to be the high priest of the occasion. But hell has no business pursuing heavenly ideals.

And even though I believe that very few individuals would have the fortitude to make a stand against the atrocity of child abuse that was perpetuated at the hands of Jerry Sandusky, I do expect a man who received such laud and praise for being ethical and moral to perform such a task.

Joe Paterno will always be known as the great coach … who was a lousy human being.

Even though William Jefferson Clinton never actually came forward to unveil his sin, because the scandal was exposed and popped like a pimple, his life continues today. What Joe-Pa didn’t realize was that the truth will make you free. It may take a year; you may suffer some sanctions. Perhaps your hopes for a national championship will be dashed in 1999. But sooner or later the American public would rise up and say, “Joe Paterno did the right thing–even though it cost him.”

And he would be remembered as the coach who made the tough decision, and as the example of a true American who stood up for what is right.

   

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