The highly anticipated independent report conducted by former FBI director Louis Freeh surrounding the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal at Penn State came out on Thursday morning and the results pretty much decimated what was left of Joe Paterno’s legacy. The findings conclude that Paterno along with other high level Penn State officials were involved in a systematic cover up of Jerry Sandusky’s crimes. The conspiracy was done in the name to protect the institution of Penn State. There were already comparisons with the Catholic Church sex abuse cover up, but after reading the Freeh report, the parallels of chilling.
Condemning Paterno is the easy thing to do. Across blogs, radio, TV, twitter, facebook and every other media outlet, especially the mainstream ones, the talk is around Joe Pa’s role. He deserves all of the criticism he is receiving, even though he is unable to speak for himself. Joe Paterno’s legacy is shattered and anyone that walks this earth and uses reason as a balancing force cannot see it any other way. But what does the fall of Joe Paterno say about society? What does it say about you and I?
There is a sinister nature regarding power. It was the great British political thinker, John Dalberg-Acton who coined the phrase, “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” In State College, Pa, there was no one with more power, with more clout than Joe Paterno. This power however wasn’t usurped via political means, it manifested through time via a winning football team and a perceived notion that the program garnered that success through legitimate means.
Were we really all fooled by Paterno? Did we actually think he was more than a mortal? The answer to this question before the Sandusky revelations was undeniably yes. There’s a statue of him outside of Beaver Stadium and it was resurrected while he was still alive. Statues are meant to immortalize people and when they are erected during the subject’s lifetime doesn’t it send a subliminal message? Do we do it out of respect and admiration? When we do these things do we blind ourselves that the Joe Paternos of the world are actual human, and thus flawed? Then we are all naive perhaps. We are all guilty of looking at men and women of certain stature in high regard. In our society it’s those in the entertainment field that get the attention. They serve as symbols of great achievement, but if we look deeper, what does it really mean?
We all love college football. It hasn’t become a multi-billion dollar industry for nothing. But if we take a look at it from a distance, it is just a game. It’s that simple, yet we put so much emphasis on it’s importance. In the grand scheme of the history of humanity, college football shouldn’t rank so high on the list. Entertainment is important for the human mind. We need it to occupy our time and stimulate our instincts. But as a species we do have the power of choice and we choose to select those who entertain us as our role models. As a result we set up ourselves for disappointment and self fulfilling prophecies.
No institution ever should be beyond reproach. When we start to believe this, then we encourage that corruption of power. Joe Paterno didn’t cover this up alone. He was protecting the perception, or the notion that Penn State was some city upon a hill. Jerry Sandusky threatened that perception and by any means Joe Paterno was going to do what he could to protect his city. Even if the innocence of children had to be sacrificed. That is the power of human nature. It’s a utilitarian approach where one calculates the importance of what they are protecting in regards to what has to be sacrificed.
Was Paterno concerned about his own legacy? Probably, but that legacy is based upon the existence of all of our perceptions. Joe Paterno’s absolute power came from all of us. There would be no Joe Pa, without the college football fan. There will always be Jerry Sandusky. We just can’t allow any institution to protect the next bad guy. No institution is as valuable as the innocence of a single child. That is what is called the categorical imperative in this case it’s a moral absolute.