“Joe Paterno was such a good guy.”
“He was such a great coach.”
“They should have let him coach at least one last game...”
These are statements I’ve been hearing about over the last few days, and I have to say, I am utterly shocked.
What I wish I was hearing more of is, “What was that guy thinking?” “How could he be so good at so much and utterly fail at what matters most?” “I am so disappointed with this guy.” It utterly amazes me that so many are focused more on Joe Paterno’s record and achievements than his lack of moral character.
Am I missing something here? Are my priorities mixed up? Should I be more concerned with some football team, or their coach, or a university’s reputation than I am with looking out for the safety and well-being of children?
No, there’s just no other way to look at this. These Penn State guys missed the mark on every level. With their silence, they participated in the abuse of young innocents. And what’s worse, they had years of opportunities to make it right - and they didn’t. Every single day they could have made this right, and every single day they chose to continue looking the other way.
Joe Paterno and the other administrators at Penn State knew that a former longtime coach of theirs was an alleged pedophile and took no steps to alert the police or prevent it from happening to other children. We needed them to step up. The children needed them to step up.
Our society needs to send a clear message here: there’s no such thing as a "passive bystander" when it comes to abuse, sexual or otherwise. We need everyone in our society to step up and do the right thing. We need everyone to do what Joe Paterno taught his team to do for years – get in the game, make the play, give it your all and play to win, but do it with class. It’s a shame he didn’t act on his own advice.
It all comes down to choice. Every action we take defines who and what we are. It doesn’t matter what you say, it matters what you do. And the worst of your choices define you more than the best of your choices do.
What you do when no one is looking is the real test of who you are as a human being and of your character. It’s easy to keep your hand out of the “cookie jar” when someone is standing there watching you. The real test is what you do when no one’s looking. The real test of your true character is what you do when no one would ever know.
Perhaps the sliver lining in this very dark cloud, if there could even be one, is that this incident might make others rethink their choices and step forward now to report abuse that they have seen. And I don’t mean just the most heinous of actions, I mean all of them:
- The bullying that teachers see at school.
- The child with the abusive, alcoholic parent.
- The physically abused wife.
- The verbally abusive boss.
- The clergy that takes advantage.
- The policeman that enjoys beating on suspects.
- The farm hand that beats on the animals.
- The drug pusher that works to create addicts.
Joe Paterno and others at Penn State knew of the allegations of child abuse against former coach Jerry Sandusky, who the university still allowed to use its faciliites for many years after the alleged assaults were brought to school officials attention, and they did nothing to stop him. We needed them to step up. We needed them to make the play.
The only play that counted.
The only play that really mattered.