Joe Paterno Provides Harrowing Reminder of How We View Sports Heroes

Benjamin HermanCorrespondent IINovember 9, 2011

STATE COLLEGE, PA - OCTOBER 29:  Joe Paterno receives a plaque celebrating his 409th career win after the game against the Illinois Fighting Illini on October 29, 2011 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania.  The Nittany Lions defeated the Fighting Illini 10-7.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The horrifying situation that continues to unfold at Penn State is the most recent and most disturbing example of what is wrong with college athletics today. While there is no denying that the accusations of child molestation against former Penn State defensive coordinator and one time coach-in-waiting Jerry Sandusky are among the most inhumane acts an adult can commit, the cover-up of these events is nearly as alarming.

This story begins and ends with one word: integrity. The moment that Joe Paterno and the rest of the adults in charge at Penn State University did the bare minimum in terms of reporting wrongdoing, they jeopardized the moral standing of the entire university (and even the state of Pennsylvania, considering it is a state-school).

The most insulting insinuation to those who have been paying attention to the developments over the last few days is those associated with the program who are asking the public to “wait a few days” and “give it some time for the facts to come out.”

Sorry, the facts are already out. A grown man committed multiple heinous crimes. Other grown men around him became aware of the situation. Those men were so committed to fulfilling their moral obligation to protect the former and potential victims that it took nearly two decades for the sex offender to come under official chargers.

Give me a break.

We have all been faced with decisions in our lives that involve “snitching” on a friend. Whether it is covering up their stealing of a candy bar or cheating on a pop-quiz, a moral dilemma has been presented to us one way or another. And while it gets murky when separating protecting a friend from doing the right thing, there are some offenses that provide no gray area whatsoever. Child molestation is one of those. Any friend that could commit such atrocities should no longer be considered a friend regardless.

By covering up for Sandusky the way Penn State AD Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz did, they did nearly as much of a disservice to the victims and their families as the man who committed the crimes.

As for Paterno, a man who was so revered among not only in college football circles but as an American icon, time will tell how he is remembered. Your ability to mold linebackers into tackling machines and help young men graduate certainly does not outweigh any lost sense of moral obligation to report illegal activity. The memory of a national championship in 1982 will not help the young men who lost their innocence so many years ago.  

It is a painful reminder that, as a society and as sports fans, we put our athletic heroes on a pedestal that, all too often, they cannot live up to. As these players and coaches have reached athletic heights that the majority of us only dream about in our driveways or neighborhood parks, we have a propensity to misrepresent them as people.

The shocking revelations about Joe Paterno exemplify just how hard it is for us to separate the two.