Penn State's worst moment perhaps society's finest hour

The recent Mark Schlabach article, "Joe failed his biggest decision," on ESPN pulls no punches. I think Schlabach is a bit heavy handed and preachy considering the extraordinary circumstances, but it's interesting how he paints the final chapter as a power struggle between Joe Paterno and the Penn State Board Of Trustees. It's yet another example of the issue at hand and that's the never ending struggle to choose right over wrong.

Schlabach basically alleges that Paterno's voluntary retirement was more of an attempt to preempt the Board and maintain control of his departure than it was an attempt to do the right thing. But as I'm sure we're all aware by now, regardless of motive, it proved fruitless as last night, the Board showed an 82-year old man that dedicated the better part of his life to honoring Penn State the door via a phone call. 61 years and a phone call, wow. By saying so little in such a small way, they said it all. None of us are above reproach. 

Unfortunately, that wasn't even the biggest decision nor the series of subsequent decisions being made because of the one the writer is referring to and that is the decision of Mr. Paterno not to do more to stop an evil so close and dear to him that he was hardly mentally strong enough to admit it, much less address it. 

Only time will tell and history will judge whether or not the Board made the right move. And I'm not here to make that call. But as a horrified onlooker with limited knowledge of all the facts and moving parts, part of me does wish Joe Paterno had just said, "this thing is too big and the ramifications too far reaching and nobody, not even me, is bigger than Penn State...I will step down now for the betterment or Penn State and society." 

As a former college football player and devoted fan of the game, I understand his loyalty to the players and wanting to finish out the season. As a human being, I can certainly understand not wanting to say goodbye to something that was his everything. But as a man, I feel right now in my heart of hearts that he should have walked away. At least then, in my estimation, he would have left on his own terms.

In getting fired, it's perceived as if he felt he deserved to have stayed even after admitting a monumental mistake in judgement by going as far as to say that he should have done more. And I do agree that every day longer that he was the coach of Penn State was like saying to the victims, the Penn State community and society at large that, "I know what I did was wrong, but football is still more important." And that just can't be.

Admittedly and hypocritically, that's just as heavy handed if not more so than Mr. Schlabach's column. If only we could all be as heroic as we are in hindsight, we'd make better decisions. So know that I bare Joe Paterno know ill will and am truly humbled knowing one of the best amongst us was humbled. 

But this is my process and perhaps yours for coping with realization of the unimaginable.

Biggest sports scandal of our time or perhaps any time? What a trivial thing to ask. I think we'll need some time and distance to accurately judge. But I ask such a trivial question to ask one much more important. If the Black Sox scandal stole our sports innocence and the OJ Trial made us question our own prejudices and sensibilities, has this one ultimately shaken us to the core of our very being?

I've always liked to believe that man is inherently good. I form that basis from a religious context. You may have a different value and belief system. Regardless, I think the majority of us feel within the depths of our souls, that if given the choice, we'd choose to do the right thing even when the Earthly reward for doing so is great personal pain, hardship, and having to admit that our fellow man is capable of unfathomable atrocities.

Admittedly, this whole ordeal has made me question my beliefs and myself. Perhaps I am weaker than the rest of you. But it does make me think for a moment that man is neither inherently good nor evil, we're just self-preservationists living to maintain a perception that's more susceptible to human frailly and vice than we've ever been courageous enough to admit. And that, more than anything I've read or heard about this heartbreaking Penn State sadness, is almost more than I can bare to process.

That said, I awoke today empowered by the realization that where one person or a group of people may fail and continue to fail, our society as a whole can still prevail. This stain, this burden that Penn State will have to carry will serve as a reminder that while we can't always right the wrongs, we can still determine the difference between right and wrong and strive to never let it happen again.

If you'll permit me to risk insensitivity in order to make a point, I will say that if anything good can come from this heinous crime against humanity it is that our society and our love for a country - where even the mightiest and seemingly most infallible can still be humbled in the name of justice - were made stronger. 

Untold numbers of victims of child abuse have not been mentally strong enough to stop the evil happening to them. Mike McQueary wasn't mentally strong enough to go back into that shower and stop the evil he was witnessing. Joe Paterno and other PSU official around him were not mentally strong enough to stop the evil they were made aware of. And though I wish like hell that I could tell you right now that I would have been mentally strong enough in the face of similar extraordinary circumstances, I can not. I don't think any of us truly can. 

But our society was, is and will continue to be strong enough. And we all got a little mentally stronger for it.  And along with a prayer for the victims, I also pray that this awful scar on our sense of virtue empowers each of us, from the weakest minded to the mightiest with the most to lose, to be mentally stronger should we ever be tested in the face of a similar evil.

Just as any of us could have, Joe Paterno may have failed his biggest decision, but our society did not.

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