Paterno in action
Last weekend proved a real conflict for me. On the one hand, UVA finally got a November win and silenced trash-talking Yankees, but on the other hand, a man who so many (myself included) believed was the epitome of dignity and principle in college football has proven to be anything but.
The weekend started off well: in addition to Virginia’s win, Hampden-Sydney was victorious over Washington and Lee, clinching the 2011 ODAC title and a D-III playoff berth.
While UVA’s win over Maryland should have been a foregone conclusion (the Terps aren’t exactly having a stellar season despite the pressure on new coach Randy Edsall), it was still a notable victory. Mike London continues to defy the almost Chicago Cubs-like curses associated with Virginia football: the Cavs can’t win more than one big game a season, can’t win two games in a row, and wins in November are a pipe dream.
It’s becoming evident that thanks to coach London, Chase Minnefield, Mike Rocco, Kevin Parks and Perry Jones, the billy goat has left Scott Stadium (unfortunately, it still resides at Wrigley Field).
But the joy of HSC’s and UVA’s wins was almost totally eclipsed by the revelation that stalwart humanitarian Joe Paterno utterly failed in his moral duty regarding the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State.
No matter that he, the University, and even a grand jury, insist Paterno “met [his] responsibilities” almost a decade ago after being notified that one of his assistant coaches, Jerry Sandusky, allegedly assaulted a naked boy in the Lasch Football Building on the Penn State campus. Paterno may have done exactly what he was legally required to do– notify his athletic director– but people, including Paterno himself, who argue that the coach did what he should have done need to take stock and recalibrate their moral compass.
Famous people in general, and sports stars in particular, have leeway no ordinary person could ever hope to have. The world certainly has changed since the U.S. Senate denounced Ingrid Bergman as “an instrument of evil” and Ed Sullivan refused to have her on his show because the actress left her husband and had a child with another man. These days, it would be hard to find a television host who wouldn’t foam at the mouth to have Tiger Woods as a guest. No repudiation anymore: today we embrace scandalous behavior.
But Joe Paterno didn’t cheat on his wife with a stripper. Paterno, as he himself testified, was told that Sandusky assaulted a child, and he informed only one person, Penn State’s athletic director, a man who has now been charged with perjury and failing to report the incident under Pennsylvania’s Child Protective Services Law. Paterno didn’t do more than the letter of the law required of him; the man who has long been heralded a personification of fidelity and integrity didn’t use his power to keep one of his assistants from molesting not just one, but what authorities now claim were eight children.
Love for college football runs deep in this country, so deep that flagrant financial and academic corruption is actually encouraged (“If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying” is the mantra). But surely even our obsession with college football can’t prevail this time.
Paterno’s failure to report alleged child molestation to the authorities, even if he wasn’t legally required to do so, is an indefensible moral failure. In an untenable situation, Paterno put football first. Heaven help us if we ever do the same.
Juanita lives on a farm in Charlotte County with her husband, son, and many dogs.