Much of what we accomplish in life is owed to others. Parents, friends, family members, bosses and co-workers not only help shape who we become, they also often give us the very opportunities that allow us to achieve. That’s why we’re so inclined to give those we know the benefit of the doubt. We give them the courtesy to answer for their offenses before rushing to judgment. On some level, this is a good thing. If we all treated everyone the same and followed the letter of every law, we’d never be able to forge bonds or create connections. As a teenager, I witnessed many of my best friends steal road signs, smoke pot, cheat on spelling tests and fraudulently tell women they were in love. They earned that silence through being my friend and affording me the same courtesy when I acted like a jerk. The people you love deserve to have the occasional problem overlooked, but there is a difference between a problem and an act of pure evil.

When a player oversleeps a final, that’s a problem. When a co-worker gets drunk at an office Christmas party and makes a skuzzy comment to your wife, that too is a problem. Sometimes, based on track record or the greater good, those concerns are best dropped. But when a man rapes a child in the shower of a facility you’re in charge of, that is an act of pure evil. That’s not a situation where someone deserves courtesy because he’s been your friend for forty years or because he’s a revered former coach at an institution you work at. There is a line. It’s different for each person and perhaps a bit blurry, but it exists and some atrocities are so far over it even the most liberal of interpretations could not possibly bend that line far enough to justify treating it simply as a problem.

Joe Paterno was supposed to be a coach. He was supposed to be a leader and a good example, but when he was told his graduate assistant saw his longtime assistant coach rape a boy in the shower, he elected to pass the buck. He dealt with it like a problem, not the act of pure evil it was. He referred it to his supervisor and never followed up on the matter. He’s since claimed he didn’t know the extent of what happened, that the truth got lost in euphemisms. Even if it did, even if all graduate assistant Mike McQueary told him he witnessed was Jerry Sandusky acting inappropriately with a child, it’s befuddling and unnerving that he simply reported the matter and put it out of sight and out of mind. How do you not ask a goddamn follow up question? How do you not say, “Are you fucking kidding me? What happened? Tell me everything you saw.”

There is no excuse for Paterno’s silence. He was the most powerful man on campus, and as such, he should have seen it as his responsibility to personally find out whether or not his longtime friend was abusing children. He should have called the police. Short of that, he should have personally launched an investigation. Short of that, he should have confronted Sandusky. Short of that, he should have asked McQueary for every single detail he witnessed. He didn’t. He did the bare minimum, and for a coach that’s prided himself on asking his players to give it their all, that’s inexcusable.

Joe Paterno had to be fired. For not living up to his own standards, for the future of Penn State and most importantly, for every last one of those victims, he had to go.



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