The Penn State Thing: Take Two.

(This is an slightly updated version of what I put up yesterday. The first four comments were left on the initial post. And while I didn’t change much, please take that into consideration. This version sits a little better with me. Also: I wrote this rather hastily still. This is precisely why I don’t blog much anymore, no time to refine and edit. But hey, I wrote something!)

By now everyone has read about Penn State. I won’t reiterate what’s taking place because it’s a waste of time, which I have very little of these (summer) days. This post is about my thoughts on the matter. It’s probably pretty selfish of me to write about my feelings (again) but this is a blog and I do that sometimes.

I mentioned before that while I went to Penn State I was no fan of football. In fact, I held a great deal of disdain toward the sport. I was an art student, one who saw firsthand just how much attention and money the football program got. What annoyed me most is there was, and continues to be, so much more to Penn State than its football program. Penn State is a great school, filled with intelligent, creative people. It was difficult watching all of that get overlooked because of football. So my hatred for the sport intensified.

I graduated, moved to DC when I was 23, and started to watch the occasional game with friends, friends who’d gone to other Big Ten schools. We’d get together at a local dive bar or someone’s apartment, make some food, drink some beer and heckle one another. Football became kind of fun.

I started to pay attention. My football-following friends made Joe Paterno seem charming, admirable; I started to really like the guy. The more I liked him, the more I liked the team. I became a fan of football. Weird.

So there I was, age 37, when the news broke last November. I truly and honestly believed he was a good and honest man, one who never would have looked the other way had he known a child was being abused. I still, to some degree, believe he was a decent human being. I don’t think he is the epitome of all evil. I believe he suffered from a powerful dose of denial, coupled with a massive ego, one Penn State University helped build.

After I read the Freeh Report a friend said to me, “I hope you’ll finally stop defending Paterno.”


I won’t sit here and defend Paterno. He is guilty of idleness, of not doing the right thing. I admit that. So, no, I will not defend him. But I must defend myself.

I’m conflicted, you see; I reckon many of us are. This man did great things for hundreds of people, many of whom were kids.

YET. This.

This ugly truth that he didn’t do more for abused boys and should have. This ugly truth that he could have stopped a pedophile and did not.


Does that undo everything he’s ever done? For many, yes. I suppose it does. But the world isn’t always black and white, especially when it comes to one’s emotions and so I remain confused, conflicted and surprised.

I was wrong. I truly believed Paterno was 100% innocent and did everything he should have done based one what he knew. He wasn’t. He didn’t. He could have stopped Sandusky, just like Spanier, Curley, Schultz, McQueary, and the janitors who were too afraid to say something because they might lose their jobs. (Incidentally, stop making these guys out to be victims. I don’t care how hard up I am for cash or how many children I’m supporting, if I saw a child being sexually abused, like actually saw it happening, I’d lose that fucking job straight up. But I digress.)

I was wrong. Joe Paterno could and should have done a lot more. He had the power to stop years and years worth of abuse.

I was wrong. I hope it helps people to read that.

And I hate that I was wrong, but not because I’m embarrassed for “being so blind” or “defending Joe Paterno”. I don’t need to hear another “I told you so!” I hate that I was wrong because I liked liking Joe Paterno; who doesn’t need more people to admire? We all need heroes. I have hundreds of heroes. Some folks I know personally; some are athletes, teachers, parents, doctors; many work with animals; some I’ve only ever shared a minute with on the subway. I like admiring people. I liked admiring Joe Paterno.

So, yeah. I very much believed he was a good man who did many good things. And I wanted to believe he did everything right this time, did everything the way he should have.

I was wrong. But I wasn’t wrong for believing in him. Please don’t make me feel badly about that.


  1. It’s complicated and it doesn’t get any less so having had him pass away during the whole process. I was surprised to hear you defend him but that’s your right. I didn’t know any history you had with him until you spoke out in his defense.

    The thing that surprises me now is the dichotomy between how you, if not forgive then at least continue to love Paterno while speaking out so strongly against the janitors and the way they’re being portrayed in the press. I wish everyone involved had had some balls about the whole thing but I have a better understanding in my gut of how difficult it might be for someone in a job with no power and who might be having trouble making ends meet to keep quiet than I do of a guy like Paterno who had such a following that his power could hardly be diminished. It hasn’t been now and he’s both been found to have been unhelpful toward those boys and he’s not alive. He was the one person who could have spoken up and gotten out nearly unscathed and he didn’t. The janitors, and a lot of other people involved, would have been looking at entirely rebuilding their lives, possibly even endangering them if they’d brought Paterno’s silence into their whistle blowing, if they spoke out and the possibility of not actually having helped the kids anyway. Still preferable to letting decades of kids get molested in my book but I can wrap my head around why it would be easy to talk oneself out of speaking out if you felt that way.

    But hey, you’re a complex chick, just like the rest of us out here. I’m surprised but I’m interested, I’m asking not judging. Doing the best we can, you know?


  2. This is a hard one, no doubt. When people hate someone, they really want to hate them, completely. Humans don’t deal well with mixed emotions. Unfortunately it is the truth of human nature to varying degrees and perhaps this is why people need things to be either black or white, good or evil in others. So that we don’t have to admit that we ourselves are not above reproach in all things we do. What he did, or didn’t do was certainly not the right thing. His inaction allowed the suffering of others to continue. All the while he continued to be the much loved football coach of Penn State. Cognitive dissonance is not something that sits well with most. This certainly overshadows a lot of his achievements over the years, but I certainly don’t think it cancels them out. I think in the end, he was a good man who made a very bad choice.


  3. I wrote this quickly while my little guy was asleep. If it came off as if I am still on Paterno’s side, it’s not the case. I was wrong about his innocence. He’s guilty of screwing up. I’m not defending him here.

    Perhaps I need to edit this.


  4. I just reread this. I plan on editing it, but what did I write above that suggests I still love Joe Paterno? Kizz, I’m confused. I’m bummed I was wrong about him and believe he did some great things. But I don’t state I am still on his side or defending him.


  5. I graduated from Penn State in 2004. I hated football while I was there. Never attended a single game, except when I worked for the Athletic Department as an intern — and I was only there for work purposes. After graduation, I missed State College, I missed Penn State, I missed everything about it – and I learned to love football. I become a Joe Paterno fangirl. This makes me so sad. It makes me angry to talk to my husband about his college team because his college team wasn’t coached by a pervert and a pervert-hider. It makes me angry that Penn State’s reputation has been shredded asunder because a man couldn’t live up to his moral responsibilities.

    I studied in the Paterno Library. I have a picture with Joe and his wife — they were taking a walk in Pollock Commons. I loved Peachy Paterno ice cream. All these memories make me so uncomfortable. I just wish they’d go away.

    Anyway, I’m babbling – but I get where you are coming from completely. Thank you for posting this. I live in the South now and nobody understands what it is like to feel this way.


  6. Then I think I wasn’t clear either. I don’t think you’re still defending him and I’m trying to express my wish to honor your past good feelings about him. I get that you don’t want to be chastised for wishing he hadn’t done what he did. The way you expressed your old love for him and your regret over being proved wrong feels soft, nuanced, complicated to me whereas the way you speak of the janitors seems very black and white. What I read was, “They are clearly totally wrong and should be given no quarter.” And I didn’t read any of your sentences about Paterno like that.

    On re-reading this version of it I think you mean that, since the janitor saw the actual acts in progress they are deeply to blame for having not acted immediately. And they are! I don’t feel as though you’re putting the same onus on Paterno and I think it should be there.

    But, you’re right, it’s just a feeling on my part. Your words don’t say that and I was asking YOU to clarify MY feelings about what you wrote which makes no sense at all.


  7. It is deeply troubling in so many ways. I have empathy for all who were involved. Sadness. Anger. I hope this will somehow help folks who are/were/will be in situations like some of the people who could have spoken up but didn’t.

    One thing I was talking with my friend George about is the role that homophobia may have played. Not that there would ever be a little girl showering naked with a coach in a college football program shower (I hope), but if there had been – I think – this whole situation would have ended immediately in 1998. So much cognitive dissonance and denial associated with under reporting of pedophilia. And I think that kind of dread and avoidance pushes that much more heavily against calling out a close friend, a person who largely contributed to the success of the team and many men associated with that team for decades, a ‘homosexual’. Shame.

    Not that it’s an excuse, but it’s another layer. And I hope we as a culture can learn to examine and discuss these issues with clearer voices and clearer eyes.


  8. An irony that keeps striking me is that any of the people who helped keep the abuse hidden could have been a hero. Especially early on. Especially Paterno, precisely because he was such a beloved leader.

    Woulda coulda shoulda. I just hope that some of the leaders in our institutions are aware that they have power to change how the people in their organizations see right and wrong and how they respond to it. Even in tragedy, they have an opportunity to set a healthy example; “Not in our house”.


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