Skip to content

Day: November 10, 2011

How can you react when the man you idolise turns out not to be perfect?

Few people that read this blog know me. Few people in fact truly know me. I am a loner. I live alone and I don’t let anyone get too close to me. Think Clubber Lang aka Mr T in Rocky III. I have always been this way. I do things my own way and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I like the idea of setting out my life to my own set of goals. I don’t like risks. I like doing the right thing. I like living a quiet life. I have never ever truly looked up to someone…until a few years ago.

Several years ago my life was at an extremely low ebb. I had finished university and didn’t have a clue where my life was going. Then someone walked into my life. A person I have never met, never spoken to, someone who doesn’t even know I exist. However this person moved me with his teachings and the way he had handled his life. It led me to doing more research on the way he worked and the way he lived his life.

That man was Joseph Vincent Paterno.

There are a few people who read this and even know who he is or why I revered him so. He is (as of writing) an American Football coach. He is (as of writing) still the Head Coach of Pennsylvania State University Men’s Football Team. A job he has held since 1966. He has been on the staff at Penn State for well over half a century. 61 years he has given to the university. He taught a simple mantra ‘doing things the right way’ and he had the motto of ‘success with honour’.

This wasn’t just on the football field. This was in life. He taught all his kids that in life you have to do things the right way. There are no short-cuts. If you break the rules then you have to pay the consequences. He was dubbed ‘Saint Joe’ by the media. The university is one of only two major programmes in the States to have never fallen foul on any level of the NCAA (the other being Stanford). He had turned a small university in the middle of nowhere in central Pennsylvania into the university with the largest alumni base in the country. No-one else did he. He did it through his teachings and through football.

He gave his life to the university and to his kids as he saw them. Parents sent their kids to Penn State because Joe Paterno was there. A man with the impeccable moral compass – or so we thought.

The world collapsed around Paterno on Saturday after his former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was indicted on 40 charges of sexual abuse against children. That couldn’t topple Paterno but then it came out that he knew something but didn’t stop it. What he knew we don’t know. I think we will know and we will hear in time. However that time frame isn’t clear. I have blogged on this already so I’ll keep this brief.

In 2002 Mike McQueary walked in on Jerry Sandusky allegedly anally raping a ten-year old boy in the showers at Penn State. Sandusky was no longer a coach but still used the facilities. McQueary was 22 years-old at the time. What he did next is something that is causing much heartache. He ran. He didn’t step in and stop Sandusky. He rang his dad and his dad told him to come home. He then informed Paterno what he saw and in turn Paterno informed his superiors what had been relayed to him. Both McQueary and Paterno did their legal requirement but the question of what they didn’t do morally is the pertinent question.

I will come out and say this. I can’t defend what Mike McQueary didn’t do but unlike most of the disgusting US media I can understand it. The US media is full of very macho men and strong women who know exactly what they would have done. They would have gone in there and stopped the sexual encounter and twated Sandusky and called the police. Obviously that is what we all hope we would have done but I have no idea what I would have done as a 22 year-old in that situation. I don’t know how as a 28 year-old I’d deal with that situation. I want to know how I would but I don’t know. None of us do. Would we freeze and run or would we intervene? Until you arrive into that situation you can’t know so I will not bury Mike McQueary over his initial reaction.

It is clear that McQueary, his father and Joe Paterno all should have gone to the police. In all honesty Mike McQueary should have done this and if he was unsure it is his father who should have encouraged him to do so. I know Joe Paterno is a father figure but he isn’t Mike’s dad and I think that this person should not be overlooked. Witnessing such an act is mentally scaring.

The fact is after Joe Paterno reported it to his superiors then they too failed to do anything. There was a witness who allegedly saw one of the most heinous crimes you could ever witness and yet no-one spoke to someone wearing a badge. Yes the man with oversight for the police was informed but he wasn’t a police officer. This is the decision that has toppled a man who taught me so much.

I am not saying I was off the road or bereft of morals before I learnt about this man. I in fact had and I do believe still have a very strong moral compass. However this man epitomised everything that I could ever aspire to be. He was a football coach but that was secondary – first of all he was a teaching and leader of young men. Many a wayward kid passed under the tutorship of Paterno and came out the better for it. He (and his family) pretty much built the library on Penn State’s campus with their own money. They gave back more to that community than I can put into words. They instilled something in everyone who passed through the gates into Happy Valley. Being a Penn Stater meant something.

Obviously I never went to Penn State. I’m not American so I went to an English university. However I wear Penn State hoodies not because of the fashion and not because of the football team but because it reminded me of doing the right thing. ‘Success with honour’ is one of the most wonderful things I have ever heard. To have success without any honour is meaningless. Success is secondary to honour.

In no form of life (to my knowledge) have I ever acted with dishonour. I have let people screw me over and back-stab me not because I am weak but because I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I treat people the way that I’d like to be treated whether they are friend or foe. There are people who have come into my life through various means but I have always been professional and courteous with them – even though at times it was extremely hard.

I have ambitions in life but I won’t get them any other way but the right way. I won’t stab people in the back or use people to get where I want to be. I will get there if that is where I’m meant to be. I would prefer not to do everything in my life that I wanted than get everywhere and everything that I wanted but leaving a trail of being a bad human being behind me. This is something I had in me anyway but this bespectacled grumpy football coach re-enforced those core beliefs in me.

Joe Paterno knows that he should have done more. It is something he will have to live with for the rest of his life. He isn’t perfect and maybe I should have realised that earlier. No-one is perfect. His mistakes were huge but I still firmly cling on to the belief that his inactions were not in any way part of a deliberate cover-up by the man. If it was then that would be totally devastating to me and I just can’t see it. I still believe he did wrong but not through any form of malice. It is something we all do. We make wrong decisions all the time despite trying to do our best but sometimes those wrong decisions can have catastrophic consequences and for young boys and families Joe’s seem to have done so.

So I sit here typing away as I come to the realisation that nobody is perfect and that his legacy will be tarnished by his inaction on this. He did so much good for so many people for only 60 years. I’m not just talking about the football players he coached but for the whole university, for everyone who came through the doors of Penn State, for people all over the world who tried to follow ‘the Penn State way of success with honour’ that he taught. He touched so many lives and yet now all anyone wants to do is crucify him for a mistake or more he made and all his good work should be forgotten because it isn’t important.

That makes me so sad it is indescribable. I know that Joe Paterno did nothing wrong. I think I know that anyway. No-one has said he did yet but he didn’t do things right either in this episode. I am in total shock and up most disgust with how the US media are handling this story. They have forgotten that Jerry Sandusky did these crimes and not Joe Paterno. They don’t care though as they have a lynch mob mentality. They want to take down ‘Saint Joe’. I saw a piece by the LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke today and in the middle of a column calling Joe Paterno everything under the sun he wrote the words ‘This is not about Joe Paterno’ and yet that is all he wrote about.

This is a horrific story of a seemingly vile man using his position of trust and his personality and cult status as one of the greatest Defensive coordinators in history to attack and prey on young men. It is also a story of how some people failed to act to stop it is a seamless fashion. There is plenty of blame to be thrown around but Jerry Sandusky if he did these unspeakable crimes is the man who deserves the ire. Joe Paterno failed but there are plenty of other people who failed to a larger degree but they aren’t the story because they are not Joseph Vincent Paterno. The media are driving this one and they will not let it go because the media are now our moral concious. Something that I believe is one of the biggest problems we face as a society but that is an issue for another day.

For now I am deeply saddened and troubled by this whole situation. I am troubled that so many lives were affected when it could have been stopped at so many points along the path but also I am saddened that this is how the Joe Paterno era is going to end. I have no idea if Joe Paterno will still be the Head Football Coach at Penn State by the time I wake up in the morning. If he is then I suspect he coaches on Saturday. The Board of Trustees are meeting tonight to discuss whether they should fire him. It could go either way.

I fear it will go down that they fire the man who made them every single thing are they are as a university because of the behaviour of one seemingly vile man and the inaction and mistakes of many others. Paterno will be the fall guy not only because he is the very public face of the university but because that is what the media wants.

Nobody is perfect. Not even Joe Paterno. That to me is like a new world order and it is something I am going to have to live and deal with. Yet I still would trust him with everything I have and if I ever have kids or grand kids then I’m 100% positive that they could not have a better role model in life than Joseph Vincent Paterno.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Please leave any comments or contact me directly via the E-Mail Me link on the Right Hand Nav. You can stay in touch with the blog following me on Twitter or by liking the blog on Facebook. Please share this content via the Social Media links below if you think anyone else would enjoy reading.