I was putting together this blog about love yesterday while my son was sitting in the other room watching ESPN which was reporting on the NCAA's harsh sanctions against Penn State. This coming a day after Joe Paterno's statue was removed from campus.
As I listened from my office, I immediately wanted to applaud these actions. Like many, I have little sympathy for those who not only sat idly by and let children be molested and abused for more than a decade...but made a CONSCIOUS decision to CONCEAL these CRIMES... just so a football team/college could protect their reputation.
But then, I paused. Because this is a blog about LOVE and rather than focus on the negative and add flames to the fire, I wondered if Joe Paterno -- the man -- and not the legend or the fallen idol --- was deserving of even an ounce of my compassion.
What happened at Penn State is an horrific tragedy through and through. But does that make Joe Paterno a monster? In my mind, things are much more complex than that. Joe was never the SAINT he was exhaulted to be, and neither now is he SATAN. He is just a man, a human being, who like all of us is flawed and capable of rising to great heights... and of also making truly stupid, despicable mistakes.
And so, yes, in some small way I have an ounce of compassion for Joe Paterno. Because he was held up as a larger-than-life role model and hero for most of his career but when it came time for him to actually stand up and be heroic...? He FAILED MISERABLY.
I find it tragically sad that one man not only made this choice -- the most cowardly choice one could make -- but then had to live with, and ultimately die knowing it would be his final legacy.
If there is to be any positive spin on this whole sordid mess, it's the hope that something like this will never happen again. If we hold Joe P up as an example of what not to do, then perhaps going forward future generations will make more heroic choices...and risk their own comfort and security to protect those who cannot protect themselves.
This may be wishful thinking on my part, I know. Penn State isn't the only institution that allowed or continues to allow such things to go on in order to protect and preserve their reputations. The military and Catholic Church immediately come to mind as institutions that have concealed the crimes of rapists and pedophiles. If we are to punish Penn State, there are other institutions that need to be cleaned up and held to higher, purer standards, as well.
But I believe we have to start conversations about ethics at home and raise a generation of caring, loving, compassionate, and kind HUMANS. It is our responsibility to show our kids how to live by example. We should be their role models, not a football coach. We need to instill real core values in our children and make sure they know WINNING ISN'T EVERYTHING! There is a terrible cost for looking out only for yourself and letting your fellow humans fend for themselves.
Yesterday, I sat down with my 13-year-old son, and when he asked me what I thought about Joe Paterno's actions, this is what I said:
Every day, every person in this world is given choices to make. And what we do or what we don't do is what defines us as humans -- not how much money we make or whether we win games. How we treat other human beings in the face of adversity is the truest test of our character.
Paterno was a man who made a choice, a terrible choice. But he had the opportunity to make other choices every day after he made that choice. He could have come forward at any time. He could have spoken up and told the truth. But he did the cowardly thing by hiding the truth. He was not a great hero...but just a man who made a mistake, showed a lapse of good judgment, and then repeated that mistake every day by continuing to stay silent.
Ultimately, even if I can't forgive Joe Paterno, I can have pity and compassion for a mere mortal, pumped up as a hero, who was instead extremely flawed and imperfect. It is easy to point fingers and call others cowards, but I wonder how many of us would stand up alone and follow our hearts in the face of tremendous outside pressure?
Sadly, Joe P could have been a real American hero. He could have saved and protected children and become a shining example for all.
Instead, he chose to protect football.