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The Tragedy of Joe Paterno

January 22, 2012

I am not a perfect person. Neither are you. Neither was Joe Paterno.

We all make mistakes, each and every one of us. But to criticize Paterno for his role in the Sandusky scandal is not to cast the first stone at another for simply making a mistake. It’s to criticize an action that should be denounced by society.

There is no denying that Paterno did more good in his life than most would hope to accomplish. He was beloved by friends, family and generations of his players. His impact to fans of Penn State and college football was profound.

This does not mean he gets a free pass and that I have to extol him in his passing.

Joe Paterno made a big mistake. He was made aware that his friend and co-worker was raping children and yet did nothing about it. Yes, Paterno went to his superiors at Penn State. But anyone with a son, a little brother or any semblance of virtue would know that such action was not enough. Anything short of contacting the authorities or even vigilante justice (kicking Sandusky’s ass) would not be enough. He needed to make sure that monster never touched another child.

I would hope that my life is not ultimately defined by my many, many mistakes. But I would also hope that my many, many future mistakes will never include what Paterno did. I think I would have acted differently, and I would hope everyone would think they would act differently — because anyone should have acted differently.

Paterno should even be held to a higher standard. As a head figure of an educational institution, he has a duty to protect the young people under his watch — and many of Sandusky’s victims were participants in a football camp that was held at PSU.

Plus, he was Joe Effing Paterno. The man used to seemingly embody old school values and integrity in college football. The fact that he failed to protect those children for whatever reason expounded the tragedy for me.

It was the biggest fall from grace in sports I had ever witnessed or felt. Sure, O.J. Simpson, Mike Tyson and Mike Vick all partook in a range of despicable acts (or allegedly, in Simpson’s case). But none of those guys were as highly regarded morally as Paterno, which made his fall all the more tragic.

I know forgiveness should play a role. But his transgressions are not mine to forgive. I will leave this aspect to the victims, their families and The Man Upstairs.

In the mean time, I will remain confused and saddened.

I hope he rests in peace and that those who loved him, mourn him.

But I will not remember him as a role model and I will not sing the man’s praises.

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