Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno, And Why "Good" People Fail To Do The Right Thing

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At some point in the coming weeks, Joe Paterno is gonna step down as the head coach at Penn State, and the reason why is because there's no possible way to reconcile the statement he issued yesterday with the details from the grand jury report that say, specifically, that Peterno was told that Jerry Sandusky did things of a "sexual nature" to a child. I would say the use of terms like "child" and "sexual nature" are specific enough. Paterno is going to be allowed the chance to resign with some semblance of dignity, probably before the team's bowl game. And the oblivious sack of shit currently serving as PSU president will get the boot as well. This whole PSU thing is less an indictment of college football than it is an indictment of all entrenched adult institutions. From big-time college football to the Catholic church to Wall Street to government agencies, you'll find that people almost always choose to cover their ass and protect their jobs (and friends) rather than do the right thing.


Blowing the whistle is the exception to the rule. The fact that Paterno, deemed by many to be the Gold Standard for how a football coach ought to conduct himself, isn't immune to it should tell you something. Because I'm fairly certain that despite all this, Paterno remains a good and decent person. It's not like he's gonna rip off a mask to reveal that he's John Wayne Gacy underneath. All the charming things you read about JoePa in the past aren't suddenly all lies.

Sandusky was Paterno's colleague (and one would assume friend) for over three decades. So imagine someone coming up to you and telling you that your friend of 30 years was raping a kid in the shower. Would you believe it? Would you want to believe it? Probably not the first time you hear it. Would you go to the police? What if the grad assistant was wrong and your friend's life is ruined because of a misunderstanding? You might not even want to explore the matter further because you can't tolerate the idea of someone you trusted doing such monstrous things. I think the reason Paterno went to his AD and didn't go to the cops is because it provided him with the chance to have it both ways. This way, he was able to "report" it, without having to be the person who takes the significantly braver step of actually calling the police. Problem solved. Conscience cleared.


That a great deal of people chose to do nothing after that is proof of how easily a cover-up can spontaneously take root and linger. We'd all like to think we'd do the noble thing when faced with such a seemingly obvious choice. The truth is, we might not. It's impossible to read the Sandusky allegations and not get a vivid mental image of what took place. It's enough to make you want to throw up, and I say that as someone who had a near miss with this sort of thing. It's enough to make you cry out for blood and ask why no one did anything. The outrage comes naturally. But underneath that outrage, there is a real sadness and fear, the idea that "good" people can still be hard-wired for self-preservation, even when faced with the ugliest truths. Even JoePa. Even you.