Off the Cuff: (Un)Happy Valley: The Fall of Joe Paterno

Posted on November 9, 2011

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By Geoff Ratliff

The recent stories of sexual misconduct and the subsequent failure to report coming out of Happy Valley is making the rural college town anything but these days. I am not going to spend a lot of time rehashing the details of the alleged sexual assaults that occurred against young boys under Joe Paterno’s watch. I also will not spend a lot of time speculating as to who should have done what and how soon, because quite frankly, there are far too many unknowns at this point to start skewering people; although that fact hasn’t prevented multiple medias members from jumping on their soap boxes and using this as an opportunity for gratuitous self-promotion. At some point, albeit years too late, the truth will be discovered and justice will be served. What I’m more interested in is what this story says about us as human beings. Allow me to elaborate.

About those media members – I understand that those covering sports for a living have a job to do and that most of those duties include taking sides on sometimes difficult stories. The problem, as I see it, is that in this new age of social media, there’s a lot more pressure to break news quickly and get opinions out for the masses to consume on a timely basis, and this results in some, often, irresponsible journalism. There’s no question that as an institution of higher learning, Penn State has no choice but to fire every individual with any position of authority that was involved in covering up the scandal involving Jerry Sandusky, but the opportunity that many are taking to discredit the morality of Joe Paterno is a little much. If the facts as they have been reported are true, there’s no question that Paterno simply did not do enough in reporting the story he’d heard to the President of the University. But what none of us are qualified to do is ignore all of the goodwill that Paterno has built up over a 61 year career at Penn State and throw it out of the door because of an act that he had no direct role in. Knowledge of a crime, if in fact one took place, is NOT on par with committing the crime itself.

We accept the calls for Paterno’s head and the rush to vilify him and other Penn State officials because it’s the quick and easy thing to do. To paraphrase comments made by Jay Bilas of ESPN, “You hear the words 60 year-old man, 10 year-old boy, and shower mentioned together, and the answer to the question what to do next is easy. You call the authorities and start an immediate investigation.” Sure that answer seems easy, except when it’s not. The type of allegations that are levied against Sandusky are life altering, especially if they are false, so proceeding with caution is to be expected, but of course not proceeding at all is the true crime.

The one thought that keeps running through my mind however, is what would I have done if I were Joe Paterno? I’m fairly certain that most of you that just read that sentence are appalled that I would need to consider that, but I want each of you to really think long and hard about how you would respond if a friend of yours, and undoubtedly Paterno and Sandusky are friends, were faced with a similar predicament? Would you immediately throw your friend to the wolves and leave them at the mercy of the law, or would you try to exhaust every available resource you had at your disposal to help your friend manage their sickness – and there’s no question that Pedophiles, like alcoholics and drug addicts are sick people who need professional, psychological counseling – and maintain a life outside of the confines of prison walls? There’s no evidence that Paterno even took these steps, and I honestly don’t know what I would have done in his shoes, again, because there are so many unknown details. I do know that we all need to think long and hard about these issues before we rush to indict those that have acted as humans often do; imperfectly.

Contact Geoff at geoff@popflyboys.com  and follow him on Twitter @snglemarriedguy