A reader writes:
As a Pennsylvanian, as a Penn State fan, and as a survivor, I feel strongly compelled to provide some perspective here. What's happening at Penn State is a tragedy of epic proportions. The community is really struggling to reconcile the horror of the actions and inactions with a coach, a program, and a university that have done so much for so many players, students, and communities literally for generations now. As Shakespeare wrote at the end of Romeo and Juliet, "All are punished."
Those who cheer Joe's immediate departure as well as those who insist that he stay are BOTH off key. Given Joe's admission that this is the tragedy of his life, and that he wishes he had done more, the Board of Trustees had no choice but to let him go immediately. But to cast extreme judgment on him and the Penn State community at this very particular, very hurtful, and very confusing moment in time is to be blind to who he has been and what he has done over the past 60+ years. And it's also to be callous to a glorious community about which you apparently know very little, and most importantly, to the victims of Sandusky and all victims, everywhere.
There are countless, non-cultish reasons why Joe Paterno and Penn State are so revered. From his insistence on academic excellence, to a squeaky clean record in terms of abindance to the rules in an era when they are regularly bent and broken, to his investment in his players rather than an exploitation of them, to the millions of ways he has given back to the community, to his loyalty to what was once a sleepy agricultural school to what is now one of the premier universities in the country (which also happens to have the largest alumni membership in the world), Joe Paterno has demonstrated and personified what it is to do things the right way AND win while doing it. If there aren't already, there will be books written about Joe and the fundamental goodness of the Penn State community that he helped build. Joe's example has been without match, which is why this epic mistake is so pointed and devastating to anyone who's ever been impacted by him.
As for the reaction of the students, they are kids – give them time and space to sort through this and process what has happened. If you've never been disappointed by anyone you've ever held in the utmost of esteem, you might not understand. But if you have, try to remember the confusion, disappointment, and compassion you likely felt all at once in that moment of time.
Finally, one thing is for certain, and you can trust me on this: hysteria and self-righteous proclamations from any side in instances like this do NOTHING for the victims. Nothing. They only make it worse. They pick at wounds, and they stunt the healing process that survivors need. Yes – survivors want justice for their perpetrators and greater awareness of a problem that is everywhere. But more than anything, we want calm, compassion, and healing. For everyone. Even the perp and those who could have done more. It's the only way that we as survivors, or as a family, or as a community, can move on positively and constructively.
So if you want to actually do something constructive about this rather than disparage a grieving and confused community as cultists and immoral neanderthals, you can encourage everyone to wear blue – the color of child abuse awareness – this Saturday. It's a start…