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JoPa as a classic Greek tragedy

January 25, 2012

‘Success without honor is an unseasoned dish…it will satisfy your hunger, but it won’t taste good.’

--Joe Paterno (1973)

Joe Paterno spent the final days of a headline inspiring life battling cancer and his critics.
His rich life, without the aid and comfort of a Bucket List (he was a coach, plain and simple—and for a lifetime), has of late become the grist for criticism and more than a little food for thought.
Yes, success without honor can be an unseasoned dish…now where did I misplace that honor and good judgment?
How sad, but how self-inflicted it was for Joe Legend.
The mostly iconic, but lately tortured JoPa, died last weekend at age 85, only 12 weeks after he was transformed from the beloved CEO and bigger than life bronze statue of his beloved Penn State to occasional punch line and full-time cancer victim.
Life isn’t fair, nor was it ever intended to be.
Unfortunately, Paterno’s final days will be marked and marred by controversy. No, that’s not enough time to chronicle the man’s litany of legacy, which was mostly estimable. After all, 62 years of coaching young men at the same university is more than worthy of our praise and admiration.
But what has transpired in Not So Happy Valley during the past three months in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex scandal at Penn State elicits something else.
Sandusky, Paterno’s former assistant coach, has been charged with allegedly molesting young boys.
Yes, we’ll give Sandusky the benefit of little doubt that he molested young boys and that the entire State College, Pennsylvania community mishandled a heinous case that will haunt the proud institution for years.
Paterno, after his firing in the late stages of the 2011 football season, ostensibly by a university board of regents that simply wanted to distance themselves from the coach and find singular or plural scapegoats in the scandal, conceded that he wished he had done more.
The most powerful man on campus and a coach for the ages admitted that it had never occurred to him that Sandusky could have been doing what he allegedly was doing.
Yes, blinders can make fools of us all and those monsters are lurking under the bed, in the boardrooms—and apparently on the sidelines.
Arrogance, ignorance and power can corrupt and ultimately lead to a myopic view of reality and doing what’s right. For details, see Penn State.
And no, I’m not talking about Congress and our political system here, although I could be.
Paterno, in essence the university’s de facto leader (and you thought it was the college president), said he couldn’t understand why anyone would do that to children…he said he had never heard of that kind of thing.
Ask the predatory priests about that kind of thing.
I don’t get it either.
Paterno, who loved a classic football game that his Nittany Lions would ultimately win, of course with a successful two-minute drill, was also into the classics and knew his Cover Two and Aeneas too.
It wasn’t all Greek to JoPa.
The sad irony of it all is that JoPa is now a classic Greek tragedy of the self-induced variety.
Many of us are coated in self-absorbed Teflon and essentially bereft of any ability or inclination to take personal responsibility for much of anything. In JoPa’s final days, there were certainly indications of at least lower case mia culpa with caveats.
He wished that life’s game plan had been more transparent and proactive in the early days of Sandusky-Gate.
Yes, somewhere earlier in those 409 career wins, JoPa could have done enough and said enough to stop the pain and do the right thing. But he didn’t call police nine years ago when he was first alerted to the alleged issues surrounding his friend and former PSU coach Sandusky.
Why did all of this remain secret at Penn State for so long?
Like I said…very sad.
But the cloud that hangs over Penn State and the late Joe Paterno shouldn’t cloud what transpired before the horrific revelations in late 2011. There were six decades of achievement by a brilliant football coach and a laudable human being.
The man belongs to the ages. I for one hope those ages treat the man kindly. He was one of a kind—and the old school kind.
Unfortunately, we don’t always get do-overs and none of us is perfect. We make mistakes. There have been some unfortunate things said about Paterno in the last few weeks relative to his involvement in the Penn State mess.
We all have regrets and recrimination, and unless you are bereft of conscience, you understand that.
I will always remember Joe Paterno as a bigger than life figure in horn rimmed glasses who created far more positive story lines than not—on and off the gridiron.
None of us is perfect, not even icons and football coaching legends of considerable repute and late in the game repudiation.
Try to rest in peace, Mr. Paterno.

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