Oddly enough, my family was at Penn State when the news broke of Jerry Sandusk’y alleged child abuse. Either the campus had not yet heard the news or not yet realized the full reach of the story. No one was talking about it yet. Maybe it was just that we enjoyed isolation from the news because we were sequestered in the Natatorium and that isolation protected us from really understanding all that was unraveling.
But before I get too comfortable on my own high horse, I want to say that we all need to be careful here. I know there have been times when I was concerned about a child (or an adult for that matter) and did nothing because I simply did not know what to do. I want to be sure to say I have not been worried about abuse or egregious behavior but I have surely seen neglectful behavior or over-reactive behavior. I have been very concerned. But that mystical dance between being worried about another person’s child and crossing the line of that child’s parental responsibility is impossible to gracefully maneuver.
However, Joe Paterno is nearly a God at Penn State. He is certainly larger than life and I suspect that those poor children were likely lured to Penn State and to Jerry Sandusky’s care under the full shadow of Joe Paterno. They may have been there with Jerry Sandusky, but the reason they wanted to be there was likely to bask in the glory that was Joepa’s alone.
While we were in State College, we ate at a local restaurant. The largest picture in the dining room was Joe Paterno’s. There were quotes from him surrounding it. There was a sandwich named after him – The JoePa. The waiter even joked with us that if someone innocently mispronounced it “hoepa”, he would walk away from the table snickering and shaking his head in sympathy for the poor customer who just didn’t know. That sometimes it was fun not to correct them and just imagine them walking around campus embarrassing themselves until some kind soul felt sorry enough for them to let them in on the secret – it’s pronounced with a “J”.
I saw on the news today that there were student riots near the campus. I can only imagine that those students who were taking part just don’t understand why Joe Paterno should have been fired because they are not parents yet. They don’t know that their own parents are worrying what kind of place they are paying to send their children to. I don’t want to believe that we are raising a generation of young adults who think that football legacies are more important than the safety of young, innocent kids.
A lot will be revealed in the coming months and maybe we will learn that Joe Paterno did a lot to try and stop what he seems to have known (or at least suspected) was happening under his watch. I hope so. But it will be hard for me to believe that he could not have done more. When Joepa talks, people put down their sandwiches named after him and listen. He has the weight of all of this on his heart. The least of his worries is never coaching football again.