Friday, December 6, 2013
If you were Joe Paterno, you would have used the power of your position and the reputation of your name to protect the vulnerable. You would not have betrayed your conscience or the love and respect of those who knew you.
Paterno was the revered head football coach at Penn State. He was the symbol of what is good in big-time sports. But he did not act forcefully enough to save boys from the sexual predator who was Jerry Sandusky, his friend and former colleague at Penn State. Now Paterno is the latest example of a very familiar quote attributed to the 18th century Irish statesman, Edmund Burke.
"All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing." Although Paterno is accused of doing more than nothing by helping to steer attention away from Sandusky. He had to preserve the image of the monolithic institution he created that is Penn State football. Yeah, too bad about those kids.
The recent release of a report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh created universal anger and sorrow. The most damning point from Freeh's investigation was the claim that Penn State administrators and Paterno knew about Sandusky and the boys for 14 years. Friday morning I was asked to "localize" the story. Meaning, get reaction from Penn State alumni or others with connections to the university. How did the Freeh report affect them?
I quickly found two voices, both with the Old Orchard Beach Raging Tide, an amateur team of collegiate baseball players. One is a catcher on the Penn State baseball team, the other has grown up in State College, Pa., where the campus is the town. After initially getting a green light to speak with them, I was waved off. Both declined to speak.
Their silence may have been more telling. It doesn't matter if you were at the scene or many miles away.
All of this hurts too much. The abused boys aren't just kids from Pennsylvania. They could be our brothers, our sons. The boy that mows your lawn or dates your daughter.
Some of us have never met Paterno but we've lived with Joe Pa for decades. To those who play any sport, on any campus, he was Coach. He was a good man who made the worst decision of his life and before he died this winter, understood that.
This isn't a Penn State story. It's the universal story of seeing something wrong and having the courage to act and help make it right. It doesn't matter how much power you have. Any action is better than no action. There are too many examples in history or in our lives of people shrugging and looking the other way.
Which brings to mind the Penn State students who protested when the university removed Paterno as coach last fall. What were they thinking, then and now? Blind faith, blind eyes.
Here in Maine the attitude could be not my deal, not my problem. Wrong. Penn State is our shared grief and shared responsibility. No part of our lives is immune from abusers.
Steve Abbott, the UMaine AD, understands. He was one of the few on a beautiful Friday afternoon in July who was reachable. "It's depressing and makes me angry. Depressing to see this happen to such a great program and anger at the lack of caring for these kids. They're the whole purpose of what we do in sports."
What happened at Penn State has been discussed on Maine's campus and on the American East Conference level, said Abbott. Fourteen years of inaction and coverup are terrible lessons. Could what happened there happen here? Abbott says no. But we are a society that doesn't always remember its history.
For all the sophistication Abbott brings to the table as Sen. Susan Collins' former chief of staff he's as surprised at what happened at Penn State as the rest of us. "I can't imagine an institution trumping human lives like this. I can't imagine."
We live in an eye-for-an-eye world that cries for death penalties, meaning the suspension of the Penn State football program. There are enough victims and certainly the boys suffered more. But the players who are the Penn State football program did nothing wrong.
Death penalties allow us to wash our hands and think, there, that's done. Protecting the abused, the victims and the vulnerable is work that's never done.
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: