In the strident, contentious world of sports commentary, the death of Joe Paterno on Sunday has evoked a remarkable display of tolerance. The gist is this: Paterno was a man of great accomplishments but he had weaknesses like any human being, so who are we too judge?
“Every great man has a flaw.” — Bill Kline of the Allentown (Pa.) Morning Call.
“His record … will show he was not a statue made of bronze, and that he was defined as much by what he failed to do and say, as by what he did. Which merely made him, in the end, human.” — Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post.
Nowhere have I seen a writer providing a voice for the children who were reportedly raped and sexually molested in the Penn State locker room, not once in some random act of violence, but allegedly over and over again on the university campus.
Where are the journalistic voices of outrage that a coach with the power and authority of Paterno did so little in the face of an allegation that his longtime coaching assistant Jerry Sandusky had attacked a child in 2002? Where are the questions about what else Paterno may have known?
Do these writers believe moral virtue is some kind of balancing act in which good deeds are trotted out and stacked up against bad ones? Do 409 football victories erase one terrible wrong?
Penn State fans seem to think so. Many alumni and students, according to an Associated Press story this morning, say Paterno was treated shabbily by the university trustees, who fired him in November, and they won’t be welcome at a two-day viewing and a public memorial planned this week on campus. More honors are being sought for the late coach.
Back in my college days, I came across a question posed by a character in The Brothers Karamazov by Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, who was exploring the existence of evil in God’s world. This question is this:
“Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature – that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance – and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears: would you consent to be the architect on those conditions?”
Good and evil are not two sides of the same coin. They don’t cancel each other out. Paterno failed to alert police and did the bare minimum to meet his legal responsibility. The good that Paterno did in his life will be interred with his bones. The wrong he did will live on in the tormented lives of the victims.