The first motivation for my blog came in November 2011 as I watched the evening news and heard that the legendary Joe Paterno had been fired as the Head Coach of the Penn State Football team. My response to that shocking news was to write Jo Pa a letter via my newly instated blog. It is now August, not quite a year from that first post and the Philadelphia Inquirer’s lead story of the Sports Section is once again dedicated to the Paterno topic. This time due to a biography which went on sale on Tuesday this week chronicling Paterno’s life, much of which came from personal interviews with the man himself. The Paterno story: A tragic fall from grace by sports writer Joe Posnanski might help to shed some light for the many fans of the man who is Paterno as to why he didn’t do more and to why the situation became what it did.
From the Inquirer article, Posnanski, appears to give a heartfelt interpretation of the events that transpired in both leading up to the incident and how the man coped in the months before his death to lung cancer in January of this year.
My instant reaction once again was to write when I had read Frank Fitzpatrick’s Inquirer article. And once again I was instantly sadden; for Joe, his family, Penn State, the victims, the athletes who knew him and the community at large.
Often as humans we don’t realize how much is expected of us. The Zeus like status that Joe Paterno had meant he was expected to not only be perfect on the football field, but he was expected to “do more.” We have witnessed many individuals in high-powered positions “fall from grace” for not doing enough. Unfortunately, Joe’s ability to be singularly focused on the football field of excellence led it all to be taken from him. This is an unfortunate reminder that if we are going to take on the responsiblity to lead many, manage many or speak on the behalf of others our roll is never singular but multiple. We are not given the luxury to only be a stellar athlete and judged purely on that regard, but one is judged on much more. In all honesty I find that I have mixed feelings about this. I have an ability to compartmentalize, which meant when the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal hit; I felt it was a personal matter for their families to handle and as long as it did not affect his ability to successfully do his job than it was none of my business. Knowing that Paterno should have done more is agreed, even from his own lips, but where does the line fall on his multi-tiered responsibilities?
Given my Italian family interactions over the years I somehow can understand and see my Great Uncle Carmen acting in a very similar way to Paterno, not because of any maliciousness or lack of wanting to do more, but out of a disbelief that it was even occurring in the first place. The world was a very different place when they grew up. People did not know that things like this took place because they were not out in the open. The scandals of their day involved Marilyn Monroe and President Kennedy. Not children. In the public domain the words “child abuse” did not exist until the post 60s era and has changed largely in the last 30 years. This in no way makes it ok or foregiveable, but needs to be taken into consideration when you’re thinking about the man and how it happened in the first place.
As a coach, former athlete and all around fan of Paterno’s I’m whole heartedly sadden by everything that has occurred. I have a difficult time understanding the NCAA’s roll and right in punishing the current and future athletes, coaches, fans and one of the best all around Division I athletic programs in the country for an act that none of them had any participation in. I’m in fact enraged at the NCAA for further tarnishing what has already been torn apart. Shouldn’t the NCAA be trying to rebuild the program from the Hurricane Katrina like damage that has already befallen it rather than make it worse?
To the athletes and coaches, I’m so sorry! I know how I remember so many of the wins and losses over my career. Through the tears from loss and the elation from the double overtime wins they create who we are. Despite what the NCAA has done, do not forget these, keep them with you and remember that if you let them your careers can span further than you thought they ever could. Keep playing and keep coaching!