So, Joe Paterno is dead.
He got off easy. He died surrounded by family and the echo chamber that allowed him to leave the world secure that even if he “wishes he’d done more,” what could he have done, anyway? He’s an old man. He’d never heard of that “rape and a man” thing. He’s olllld. Stop picking on him. He’s a national treasure and he lives in the same house he bought as a newlywed and he walks across campus and he endowed a library and he’s Joe Pa.
Trials, and investigations, and more probing questioning, might have turned up a few things that wouldn’t have gone over well. When you say you “wish you’d done more,” Mr. Paterno, when exactly did you reach that conclusion? In 2002, 2003, or last November?
When I heard the news this morning, I posted a tweet that said only, “JoePa beats the rap.” One of you who saw it replied at some length via Facebook. I’ll let you read it and tell me what you think:
One that was self-inflicted, and deeply deserved.
I don’t even pretend to be unbiased about this. I was sexually abused when I was a kid, and like this situation all of the adults who could have done something pretended that it didn’t happen. But that was in the 1970’s and what my family did was more or less the societal norm for the time. Yes, they should have had the backbone to confront it head on instead of letting me sort it out for myself at age ten, but they at least had that fig leaf of an excuse.
Paterno doesn’t get that pass. McQueary came to him in 2002 and told him he had seen Sandusky RAPING a boy in a Penn State locker room shower. Paterno was then 75 years old and he had never heard about molestation or even gay sex between consenting male adults? Like hell. You can’t spend one week, let alone five decades, in male team sports without getting a thorough description of how male-male sex works. To believe that Paterno was able to morally guide his teams for decades on drugs, cheating and sportsmanship but he didn’t know that some sick men like to stick their pee-pees in boy’s behinds (Paterno wanted to act like he was an infant on the subject so I’ll put it in terms he might have preferred) – is to be delusional. He knew what McQueary meant. You can not be a functioning adult – or a parent – and not be aware of child molesters and what they do.
Not acting on what McQueary reported was bad enough, but what was worse is that everyone – Paterno, McQueary, the AD and president – did not lift their eyes even a millimeter to see all of the other ways Sandusky could be destroying the lives of many boys. They knew he ran a home for troubled boys. They continued to allow him to run his youth football camps at Penn State. What were they thinking? That fucking a ten year-old in a semi-public place was a fluke? That just because he took extraordinary measures to have access to young boys it wouldn’t happen again?
They were wrong.
There are eight known victims of Jerry Sandusky, I guarantee there are a lot more who won’t come forward. Paterno, McQueary, and the PSU admins involved knew about this for at least nine years, possibly longer, and they did nothing. I suspect because they didn’t know how to stop Sandusky without killing themselves professionally and the football program, but their motives are irrelevant. They could have stopped a serial child molester, and all of them made a conscious decision not to. They didn’t rape those kids, they just made it possible for Sandusky to do it.
Since this broke I’ve heard a lot of sportswriters say that this was “difficult” because you had to consider Paterno record outside of covering up a molester in his program. I think that’s kind of the ultimate real-life “Otherwise, what did you think of the play, Mrs. Lincoln?” moment, and I think that moral character is defined when it’s tested.
But if you want to make that claim, then you also need to look at the reach of what Sandusky did and Paterno enabled.
I am exceptionally lucky. I didn’t turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with this and, most gratefully of all I didn’t become an abuser myself. For years I was terrified that I would this to a child someday. In my late 40’s, I have a good marriage to an amazing woman. I have friends, and I have peace.
But it wasn’t until my late 30’s that I stopped having flashbacks where I would taste his cock in my mouth. (I would apologize for the language but this was an assault. I need for you to feel it like a punch so you can understand what these kids will go through.) I went from being a kid who they wanted to bump up two grades to not caring. I became a clown and that was helpful in other ways, but it’s not going to get you into college. I learned how to deal with any problem I’d face on my own, at the expense of never making myself fully vulnerable to anyone. There’s nothing anyone can do to destroy me – because I won’t let you get that close. That’s how I’ve found peace.
Some of Sandusky’s victims won’t be as lucky. Thirty years from now some of them will be addicts, some will be alcoholics, some will be abusers and molesters themselves. The ones who are lucky will patch together something that works for them without hurting anyone else. It will get smaller in their mirrors but it will never fully disappear.
It may not be as personal for someone who hasn’t gone through this, but putting that aside I can’t understand how attachment to a college sports program can trump even an academic understanding of what molestation is and what it does to its victims, and how those two things should be prioritized. And I live in Bloomington freaking Indiana – I know something about iconic coaches, winning programs, and how people lose their shit when both end badly. But Bob Knight never hurled a flower pot at a kid, and Woody Hayes didn’t swing at a ten year-old. Is the infatuation with adults playing a children’s game so great that not even covering up for and enabling a molester doesn’t deserve a hearty “How fucking dare you?” If this doesn’t cross the line, what would?
If you made it this far, thanks for reading. And rot in hell, Joe.
That’s pretty powerful, don’t you think? We have a long history in our culture of not speaking ill of the recently dead, and I’m not so cross-eyed on this subject that I can’t see that Paterno did good things along the way, and not all of them in coaching football. I know we all hope we won’t be judged by the worst thing we’ve done in our lives, but I also agree with our commenter — character is defined when it’s tested. Paterno was tested, and failed. By failing, he almost certainly enabled Jerry Sandusky to abuse other boys. All the endowed libraries in the world won’t balance that scale.
Another writer says much the same thing.
I should say, finally, that I’m not smug about this. But I’m not blind, either. I only hope that when the chips are down, I’ll be able to do the right thing. It’s not easy for anyone.
So, with that, some bloggage?
The great Emma Downs on a rift between bookselling brothers:
At one time, Sam and Joel Hyde were more than brothers. They were business partners, co-owners of Hyde Brothers Booksellers, the dusty, crowded and cozy used bookstore on Wells Street.
The partnership lasted 10 years and both Sam and Joel describe the parting as amicable. But it was also fraught with long discussions about what Sam owed Joel and vice versa. The process of divvying up the store’s inventory alone was a slow process, Sam says.
At one point, Joel asked Sam what he would pay for the paperbacks Joel was leaving behind.
“Nothing,” Sam said.
And the discussions would start all over again.
It’s a good read no matter where you’re from, but better if you’ve shopped at the original Hyde Brothers. Thanks for the find, Brian.
And with that, the week begins. Sorry to bum you out so early, but I’ve spent the last two hours reading nothing but apologias for kindly Grampa Joe. Not here you won’t.