Joe Paterno’s Trip to Egypt

The remarkable sequence of events in the second week of November 2011 will undoubtedly be a preface to a long string of litigation and embarrassment for the Penn State community. In particular, the actions of Joe Paterno leading up to his being dismissed Wednesday by the Board of Trustees made it evident that he had just returned from Egypt where he spent a lot of time in “de-Nile.”

This article may sound like kicking a man when he is down. I have no anger toward the man, and from a legal perspective, have no comment on whether he is guilty of any crime. At this point people should presume he is innocent, although his ouster from the Penn State Athletic Program was made unavoidable by his words and actions.

Personally, I feel sorry for Joe and especially for his family. Here is a man who has given so much to so many for so long that we ought to be willing to cut him some slack. Unfortunately, at this time, I believe the damage he did by his own words this week, regardless of his legal status, is far more deep and lasting than meets the eye. I believe Joe is only starting to recognize the consequences of his statements.

Two statements made by Joe were particularly troubling, in my opinion.

1. Joe said, “If this is true, I am shocked,” but he already knew it was true because he had notified his superiors back in 2002. That is an indisputable fact. I think the shock Joe was referring to was that the whole thing was being made public, not that an assistant was alleged to have acted inappropriately with defenseless children.

2. When he said, on Tuesday, “The Board of Trustees should not waste one minute of time discussing what should happen to me, they have much more important things to discuss,” he revealed a personal denial or lack of appreciation for his own accountability in the matter. He wanted the Board to look elsewhere to find the people responsible. Even when it was revealed he did not follow up on the matter beyond notifying his boss, he did not seem to realize what his part in the scandal cost his own legacy and that of Penn State. His statement, “I wish I had done more,” was the admission of at least some culpability, but then he went on preparing for the Nebraska Game indicating he would retire at the end of this season, as if the whole issue could be compartmentalized like the stain on Monica Lewinski’s blue dress. Utterly amazing.

His unwillingness to accept personal accountability showed a poor example, not only for current athletes, but for the legion of people who have worshiped him over many decades. Each one of those people have to go back and sort out the life lessons they learned from Joe and his philosophy in a very different light now. This will take decades to sort out, and Joe himself will be long gone. The damage done to those he touched is incalculable, but not quite as bad as the damage allegedly done by his assistant to defenseless little boys. Unfortunately, that will be Joe’s true legacy. Yes, I do pity the man and his family.

There are few role models for trust and honor as recognizable as Joe Paterno. This fiasco underscores that the truth ultimately surfaces and that the need for trust and integrity in relationships is vital. We who are witnessing this tragedy need to deepen our resolve that trust is still the objective, even if a major proponent of it has fallen on his own sword.

I am not attempting to put Joe on trial in the media here. I believe the civil and legal cases will stretch on for many years, most likely past Joe’s death. Culpability for actions will be determined over time, and at great expense, by the legal system, not me. I am simply reflecting on two statements he made this past week that reveal an inconsistency between his words and reality that have left me saddened and astonished.

3 Responses to Joe Paterno’s Trip to Egypt

  1. Charles William Rodriguez says:

    Robert,
    I’d like to make a few comments on your article re:Joe Paterno.
    It has been said that a person can only be as honest with others as they are honest with themselves. I suppose, denial comes in many forms. In Joe’s case, as hard to fathom as this may sound, I wonder if he just didn’t interpret the occurence, when he originally found out, as not serious, and just shrugged it off. I heard an interview with one of the coaches who knew of the situation years ago. His attitude was that this was just a trivial anomaly in the personality of Sandusky.

    The issue of child molestation, particularly of boys, in those years, was a secret that was quickly brushed under the carpet. I would not be surprised to learn of many other instances across the sports industry that happened. It is only in recent times that the abhorent nature of this crime against children has been made public. And, as hard as it is to believe, I think there was just not a general awareness amongst some communities, that this was a horrible corruption of a child.

    Please understand that I do not condone, nor do I want to make a rationale for excusing this travesty. However, I do understand that value systems and behavioral norms are learned behaviors and not behaviors that we are instinctively born with. And, sadly, parents often fail in instilling a complete ability to sense right from wrong in their children. When combined with a culture of not speaking about such things, these things seem to be condoned de facto.

    We live in a difficult time where self awareness is a rising moral imperative. And I predict that many more disheartening situations will become public as we all are facing an age of truth and disclosure.

  2. Debra says:

    Robert:

    A few additional comments if I may…

    En route to the Penn State/Nebraska game on Saturday which my brother and I drove over four hours to attend (yes, we are alumni), he asked an excellent question — why is it that one “bad decision” eliminates all else? Why is it not that 1,000 good decisions outweighs the bad?

    There is no question that we are all dismayed by the allegations yet they are not allegations against Joe Paterno — the “face” of Penn State and the person who has taken the brunt of the media attention and public blame for this situation. Many of us are tired of hearing that Joe failed the “moral” test for who exactly can determine what is moral and what is not? He reported it, yes. Did he follow-up? No. But does that make him immoral? Not in my opinion.

    I have read and heard endless reports that are far more sensational than fact and spoke with two national media at the game on Saturday to tell them to stop exaggerating the facts simply to keep their ratings high. You stated that you “pity” Coach Paterno. I disagree. I pity the other individuals who truly need to be thrown in front of the bus. Their time simply has not come yet.

    Yes, Joe Paterno stated that he wished he had done more but as Charles stated above, could this — at the time — 70-something year old man not have been told every sordid detail? Could he not have fully understood the extent of the allegation? Could his comment about being shocked have nothing whatsoever to do with his concern that the situation has gone public but rather that he received only part of the information and was as blindsided as we are? Why is everyone so quick to say that his ouster was appropriate and that he should now be basically “tarred and feathered” on the Hub lawn? I know…it’s because he’s the “face” of Penn State and an easy target to shoulder all the blame. And everyone has indeed put Joe on trial.

    Joe Paterno is a man who devoted his entire life not only to football but academics. He established a library at Penn State, not a stadium, because academics and ensuring that his players are capable of thinking and succeeding beyond the football field are so important to him. He is a humble man who truly cared for his players over the years and, as a writer from Esquire pointed out, was loyal beyond description. He instilled values in his players that they carry with them today.

    The facts are still to become clear yet let’s stop placing the blame on this man. Many individuals and agencies ranging from the police to attorney general knew of the allegations years ago. It will be interesting to see what happens to them as the situation continues to unfold.

  3. Gary says:

    A follow up to the article and comments above…

    As a PSU alumni and long time academic and sports supporter of the university, I have been deeply hurt by all that has occured during the past week. When I first heard about the Sandusky allegations, I never imagined that within a few short days, the University’s president and head football coach would be gone, with others apparently likely to follow, and the reputation of the entire Penn State community would be so badly tarnished.

    As it relates to the chain of events that occured 10+ years ago, nobody yet knows – or may ever know – exactly who knew what or when, who said what to whom or when, or how the information was conveyed or interpreted by the parties involved. It’s easy to (excuse the sports analogy) armchair quarterback and pontificate about how “most people” would handle a situation. In reality, no one can say with certainty how they or anyone else would or should have handled something. Without the facts as they were presented or shared at the time and the context in which they were presented or shared, we can only speculate or surmise… or worse, as has been the case so often during the past week, cast aspersions on anyone or anything ‘Penn State’ in an attempt to tear down a great academic institution, its storied football program, and at least one very highly reveered person – Coach Paterno. They all deserve better.

    Without a doubt, those involved in this alleged sordid affair should be brought to justice. But the punishment should fit the crime and it should be the legal system that makes the call, not the court of public opinion, which is so heavily influenced by the media’s all too often sensational reporting.

    Joe Paterno has done immeasurable good for Peen State University and for the many student athletes he mentored over the years. As much as his lack of taking more assertive action may have us scratching our heads today, it does not erase 60+ years of good. I do not believe he is or was in “de-nile.” Rather, I believe he is human like the rest of us and did what he felt, at the time, was the right thing to do… a legacy of which he has demonstrated during his more than half century at Penn State.

    Coach Paterno’s comments to the Board of Trustees that they not spend more time on him or his future could just as easily be interpreted as him wanting them to accept his decision to retire at the end of the season and not to spend more of their valuable time on what’s next for him. Many have implied it was his arrogance or, as the author of the article put it, his “personal denile or lack of appreciation for his accountability in the matter.” Is it not just as plausible for a man that has shown no evidence of these qualities that he thought he had done the right thing?

    In the end, I believe it’s a matter of perspective. Either you give Joe Paterno the benefit of the doubt or you do not. For me, his stellar track record of embodying integrity, trust the highest moral standards has entitled him to that benefit. He, like all others, should be innocent until PROVEN – not assumed or prematurely judged to be because it makes for a better headline – guilty.

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