I'm Ready To Talk About Joe Paterno and Penn State

As I'm sure you're all well aware of, the trial of former Penn State defensive coaching legend and accused pedophile Jerry Sandusky is currently taking place. It's something I've spent a considerable amount of energy trying to stay away from, selfishly not wanting to learn more of the lurid details the alleged victims had to share, not wanting to see my alma mater brought once again to the limelight for this horrible scandal.

It's been a painful experience as an alumnus, an experience that pales in comparison to the horrendous encounters that the victims and their families were forced to entail, events that will follow them for the rest of their lives.

When the scandal broke, I bared my raw emotions and wrote a piece that tore me apart inside as the last story published on TSFJ's parent site, Ed the Sports Fan.

A lot has happened since then. There was trepidation and coming together. There was a new coach brought on, and an old legend passing away as his legacy crumbled around him. And really, all the while, I've had pretty much nothing to say.

I've felt too sad, too betrayed, too tired to want to deal with the new reality of my university. Not even my rabid sports fandom, my passion for Penn State football could bring me back into the fold. I wanted nothing more to do with Penn State for a while. So I sat silent. For months.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that's not exactly my modus operandi. When I have a close connection to something, a big affinity for something, I have no shortage of opinions on the matter. Yet here I was, with my alma mater, the school I had dreamed of attending since I was a little kid, the school I graduated from, a football program I had followed all my life, in the midst of the most heinous kind of scandal imaginable, and I couldn't contribute anything further than my initial reactions that I spilled out on the Internet.

They say time heals all wounds, to which I say bullshit. These wounds will never go away for the victims, and they'll never go away for the people who truly care about human kind. They'll never go away for many of the Penn State students and alumni as well, because it will forever be associated with the university we chose, a university whose officials betrayed our trust and, worst of all, the trust of innocent young boys. I know these wounds will never really heal, so the best we can do is try to right the ship, try to make a difference and move on. There's really no other choice. Silence is not the answer.

So here, I have finally decided to break my silence. I'm ready to talk about Joe Paterno and Penn State again, ready to share my opinions and let the chips fall where they may.

When the scandal broke, I immediately said everyone in charge had to go. That's exactly what happened, and I stand by my statements 100 percent.

I know there was a pretty big uproar about the way the university went about dismissing the legendary Joe Paterno, indisputably the most important person in Penn State history. Hell, even Coach K chimed in. I agree that the way the Board of Trustees handled it wasn't what you'd call ideal, but I also don't really think it matters all that much how he was fired. The fact of the matter is Joe Paterno was fired, and he deserved to be.

That's a statement I'm oddly comfortable making, even as the man has passed on — a man I once revered and held to highest standard. But this man proved to be just that, a man who is flawed like all men, a man who simply didn't do enough, just as no one in this whole terrible tragedy did enough.

That doesn't mean I'm going to look back at everything Joe Paterno did and was and pretend it never happened, and it certainly doesn't mean I believe Joe Paterno is the most culpable player here. He was a man who bettered the lives of thousands of people, maybe more. He was a man who truly believed in education and put his money where his mouth is. He was a man who felt much more pride having his name on the library than this absurd crusade to rename the football field after him. Oh yeah, he was also a damn good football coach.

I don't think it's right to forget all of that, and I don't think it's right to forget what a great place Penn State was and is. But I also don't think it's right to forget what happened here, and how many people, including Joe Paterno, had in hand in allowing it to happen. It's not right to to just say sorry and then offer up excuses, because this entire mess in inexcusable. Joe Paterno lived a great life for a long time. Then he made a grave error in judgment, one he deservedly suffered the consequences for — consequences, I might add, that can't even begin to touch the the consequences his inaction resulted in. I wish he was here to tell his side of the story, to accept responsibility and lead a crusade to make Penn State a better place like he had for decades before, but he's not. He's gone. And he won't be forgotten. I just hope that none of his story, even its disturbing end, is ever forgotten or distorted.

Life does not reside in the simple tenets of black and white. There are gray areas everywhere. I've had to deal with certain ones myself, as we all have. This whole entire murky mess illustrates just how complicated, and horrible, and confusing the world can be. It brings about questions of power and respect and safety, of fandom and athletics run amok. It makes a person look inside himself and at those around him and ask some tough questions.

And at the end of the day, it's proof that life, in all its gray areas, happens everywhere and to everyone, even in a place like Happy Valley. It's our job to make life happen in a positive way and not let terrible tragedies like this take place. I think Joe Paterno would agree with that.

If you can, donate to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network or a similar charity to help prevent these horrible crimes and aid the victims traumatized by this type of horror. It's everyone's responsibility to keep our children safe, and if we can't do that, then really, what's the point?

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