What Joe Paterno took to his grave regarding the recently alleged sexual assaults at Penn State University, we’ll never truly know. In hindsight, many are sanctimoniously declaring that they know full well what they would have done, had they found themselves in his place.
Sportscasters are now quick to say that Paterno may have been a man of principles, but he should have done more when notified of pedophilic behavior in one of his staff at Penn State University.
Paterno, they say, should have taken matters into his own hands and gone above the heads of the University staff members that oversee him—specifically, the athletic director and college president.
But instead, Paterno followed the regulation that dictates what he must do; that is, he reported to his superiors what was reported to him by one of his subordinates. You see, Paterno was a rule-follower, and journalists—especially sports journalists—often hate those types.
And this prompts the media intelligentsia to now condemn him for one of the very traits that factored into his strong principles—his strict adherence to rules. He practiced it himself, and demanded it of his players.
Now it’s easy for me to rationalize this way. I’ve spent a good portion of my adult life in military and quasi-military careers, where we are trained to report complaints such as this to our superior.
What we are not trained to do is to follow-up, if you will, to see if our superiors are handling the complaint to our satisfaction. And that is exactly what Paterno’s detractors are insisting: that he should have seen to it that the college authorities took the action he thought was appropriate.
In fact, they are saying that Paterno should have supervised his supervisors. At least that’s what they would have done. They would have taken matters into their own hands and damn the consequences.
This hits close to home with me since it’s a preferential theme in some of my writing. The protagonist in my novel, Grave Departure, does precisely that. He has departmental rules that dictate what he must do, yet his dilemma is to decide if he will follow the rules or take matters into his own hands. And—like Joe Paterno—he must live with the consequences. And also like Paterno, he’ll most likely take certain of those consequences to his grave.
My intention with Grave Departure was to make the reader think: To think, “Did the protagonist do the right thing for the wrong reasons? Or did he do the wrong thing for the right reasons?” And most importantly, “What would I have done in this situation?”
But now, instead of asking themselves what they would have done in Joe Paterno’s position, too many analysts are saying they know what they would have done in his position. They fail to ask, “Did he do the right thing for the wrong reasons? Or perhaps, the wrong thing for the right reasons?”
However we look at it, Joe Paterno took his consequences to his grave. They may have even hastened his death. I truly hope he rests in peace.
He was a good man. A good man faced with an agonizing dilemma—one I hope I’ll never have to face.
And that’s how I’ll remember him. One rule-follower to another.