I am not sure I have anything to say that has not already been said about Penn State. Tragic. Sad. Morally Reprehensible. Today it is easy to take shots at the Penn State football program and the university as a whole. I am not particularly interested in piling on. I am doing my best to live by the words of Abaham Lincoln in the Second Inaugural Address: “Malice toward none, with charity toward all.” But living by these words is not easy at a time like this.
I have never been a Penn State fan, but I do feel bad for Joe Paterno. We learned a lot about what it means to be human this week. We learned that human beings are capable of doing wonderful things. I am reminded of this whenever I am on the Penn State campus and drive by the Paterno Library. We also learned that human beings are flawed. We are all capable of wrongdoing. I feel bad for Paterno, but I feel worse about the victims.
Joe Paterno’s terrible sin of omission–the failure to protect Jerry Sandusky’s victims–should remind Penn State fans that JoePa is human. This, of course, is no excuse for not going to the police or “doing more” for the victims. Indeed, it is time for him to go. But it is painful to watch a man who did so much good for students, a community, a college, and young athletes, go in this way.
What has intrigued me most about all of this has been the attempts by many pundits to compare what is happening at Penn State with the recent sex-abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic church. Penn State football is a religion to many Pennsylvanians. I have lived in Pennsylvania long enough to testify to this fact. Paterno holds a god-like status among the Penn State faithful that is unlike anything I have ever seen in college sports. Rather than acting on behalf of the victims of child abuse, Paterno and a host of Catholic bishops acted to preserve the reputation of their institutions. Mark Silk makes some helpful observations on this point. I agree with him when he writes: “the analogy is worth taking seriously.”