In the last few days we’ve learned a couple of things about Joe Paterno.
1) After Jerry Sandusky was seen violating a young boy in a Penn State shower in 2001, the university was ready to contact child-welfare authorities. After athletic director Tim Curley had a conversation with Paterno, the school backed off its plan.
The emails surrounding this decision suggest that Paterno opposed alerting the authorities and that his view on the matter prevailed. In the years ahead, Sandusky would abuse at least one more victim multiple times. Last month, Paterno’s former defensive coordinator was finally convicted on 45 counts of sexual abuse of minors and sent to prison.
2) From 2003 to 2007, Paterno not only clashed with the university’s standards and conduct officer about his players, he sought to get her fired. While that didn’t happen, a campaign of harassment accomplished a similar result.
Paterno liked keeping anything pertaining to his football team “in-house,” and by in-house he didn’t mean the university or the athletic department. He meant Joe Paterno. Vicky Triponey found this out the hard way. Her fight to have football players treated like other Penn State students resulted in public criticism by Paterno, harassing phone calls, late-night knocks on her door, message-board attacks and the like. She eventually resigned.
If there are things we didn’t know about until the last few days, is there something we have known, or should have known, all along? Something the latest news from Happy Valley serves to remind us of?
Put not your trust in princes.
I’ve used the line from Psalm 146 before; doubtless I will again. At least half the line’s meaning has theological value, but even if you don’t want to go there, the words have practical application.
They don’t mean we can’t admire a person’s qualities or excellence in his field; they do mean that putting people on a pedestal is dangerous.
One way or the other, we’re all fallen creatures. The ability to hit home runs, knock down 3-pointers, coach football teams or win elections doesn’t indicate exceptions to this fact.
Because of their emotional investment in Mark McGwire’s success, people didn’t want to believe that he juiced. Because of their emotional investment in his success — and his founding of the Livestrong foundation — people don’t want to believe that Lance Armstrong juiced.
Because of their emotional investment in Paterno’s success and in his apparent application of “old-time values,” people don’t want to believe he was in any way culpable for Sandusky’s actions. For that matter, they didn’t want to believe Sandusky — at one time Paterno’s heir apparent as head coach — could do what he did.
I understand this.
I grew up in L.A. in the 1960s and I know how I would feel if something sordid came to light about, say, Sandy Koufax. I know how I do feel when people point out that John Wooden’s legendary UCLA basketball program was significantly aided by an out-of-control booster by the name of Sam Gilbert.
And that’s nothing compared with the Penn State situation.
Keeping the truth of the line from the Psalms in mind doesn’t need to leave us cynical; it should, however, help keep our eyes open.
Put not your trust in princes.
Contact Jim Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org.