The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

Enter San Man: What Joe Paterno Taught Me About Manhood

You read enough stories, and eventually the themes blend together. After awhile, you forget names, places and dates, and instead remember the messages, the lessons — you take away what you think you’re supposed to learn and, God willing, apply it to your own life.

At least, I always thought that was the idea, as I’d sit in bed listening to my mom read to me as a little boy. The older I got, the more complex the stories grew, and the more serious the sins of their stars became. Tales that were once about the triumph of good over evil developed into examples of moral gray areas, where seemingly good people stretched the boundaries of what could conventionally be considered good.

The more I read, the more I learned, the more I started to ask, “Good for whom?” The lessons became much tougher to comprehend. In the last few years, I’ve become increasingly interested in true stories, often turning to newspapers and magazines to get my fix.  I’ve begun to read such stories in two ways: as a young journalist, I’ve studied them to better understand how to someday report similar situations; and as a young man, I’ve tried to gather any life lessons I can find.

Joe Paterno certainly seemed like someone I could trust for life advice. For the better part of five decades, he was known to be everything right with college football: he had the most wins of any college football coach, won multiple national championships and saw dozens of players move onto the NFL — and when he caught wind that assistant coach Jerry Sandusky had been sexually abusing young boys, he reported it to his superiors — the athletic department and the Penn State Board of Trustees.

The 84-year-old did everything legally required of him. He passed the buck on to those who could properly handle the situation — and they did nothing, seemingly to avoid a media firestorm and public relations nightmare for the University. When that firestorm inevitably hit after charges were filed against Sandusky, Paterno, the embodiment of all things Penn State, inevitably took the fall. On Nov. 10, Penn State fired its head coach, and in the coming days, the state began working toward drafting legislation that would toughen the reporting of child abuse cases by people in positions of power.

Did Paterno do the right thing? Well, I’m not so sure. As the winningest coach in college football history, Paterno arguably wielded more power in the state of Pennsylvania than governor Tom Corbett. If there was anyone in the state of Pennsylvania that can really make things happen, it’s Joe Paterno. Rather than simply pass along the information he had been given by graduate assistant Michael McQueary, Paterno should have fired Sandusky and reported him to the police.

Despite his power, Paterno was a mere player in a much larger bureaucratic system, and by following regulations set forth by both his employer and the NCAA, he followed a practice my mother tried to instill in me at a young age: he kept his head down and his mouth quiet. He did what was best for himself. He didn’t break any rules — though it still led to his termination at Penn State — and, even as one of the most revered college football figures, kept a low profile.

In my mind, Paterno should have been expected to take the information he received to the authorities. Paterno’s responsibilities as head football coach didn’t end when the clock hit 0:00 in the fourth quarter — they extended into the Penn State community as someone looked upon as a moral compass.  Sure, he may have raised more than $4 million for the University during his time there, but no dollar figure could possibly ease the pain of an abused child — let alone multiple abused children, however alleged their claims may still be.

When charges were pressed, the public didn’t look to Penn State’s athletic director for answers. They looked to the school’s ol’ ball coach, Sandusky’s boss. Paterno’s only response: I knew, I passed what I knew along to others, I moved on. Sadly, that answer is simply unacceptable.

What’s most tragic about the Penn State scandal is that it’s not just a story — it’s a reality that will hang over the University and Paterno for quite some time. These wounds will not heal quickly. For Paterno, they will be permanent scars upon his coaching legacy, the scarlet letter to his on-field accomplishments. Those scars, however, don’t even begin to compare to those left on Sandusky’s victims.

How many times can I stand idle in my life? How will I know when I need to stand up for what is right and when to keep my head down and my mouth shut? If one of the most successful college football coaches couldn’t properly channel his power, how will I ever be able to use any I someday attain? This is the gray area. Paterno may have done nothing wrong, but he didn’t do a lot of things right.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

We love comments and feedback, but we ask that you please be respectful in your responses.
All The Torch Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *