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Joe Paterno Was Just a Man and Men Make Mistakes

I had a post scheduled for today on a Fun Jar that you can make and use with your own kids. It's going to have to wait because there is something else on my heart right now.

joe paterno
AP photo

Yesterday afternoon, while I rocked Allie to sleep in the semi dark of her bedroom, the news that Joe Paterno was a key player in the cover-up of Jerry Sandusky's heinous crimes slowly permeated my brain. I was disappointed and confused and left wondering how an honest and decent man well known for hard work, high standards, and unfailing integrity failed so miserably.

While I rocked my baby, full of life and promise, I wanted to hear Joe Paterno himself explain how he prioritized the Penn State football program over the danger of a child rapist. I wanted him to speak up for himself, to tell me how much he knew or didn't know and how he lived with his decision to look the other way.

I can almost – but not really – get my mind around it.

I imagine that he carefully weighed the health of his career, his life's work measured in Nittany Lion Club donations and ticket sales but also in a world class university and in thousands of successful, educated former football players all over the world, and he decided that all that good was more important than this little bad.

I guess he weighed all he could do in the lives of so many new young football players and decided that it was more important than the harm his friend was doing in the lives of a handful of kids.

I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. I want to believe that he agonized over this, but I just can't understand how he decided that the many needed him more.

And then I had an epiphany.

It doesn't matter what his reasoning was. The only thing that really matters is his silence.

Joe Paterno's silence let a rapist continue to brutalize children.

His silence made a dozen boys believe that they didn't matter, that their well-being was irrelevant, that no one cared.

His silence was as good as his approval.

I looked at my sleeping baby, the one who believes the world is a safe place, full of good people, and I was overwhelmed by disappointment.

He knew the truth. He knew that he had known all along.

In the end, he said that he wished he'd done more. Does repentance make any difference?

I've had trouble lately. I've been struggling to make sense of the senseless, to find meaning in the random. All I've come up with is that our world is broken and in desperate need of a Savior.

Joe Paterno was neither good nor bad. He was a human being, wonderful and flawed.

He was just a man, and men make mistakes.

Lost in my thoughts, I got up and put Allie in her crib, no closer to understanding than I'd been before.


© 2012 – 2018, Tara Ziegmont. All rights reserved.

11 thoughts on “Joe Paterno Was Just a Man and Men Make Mistakes”

  1. This is a wonderful post. I wrote about this situation when it first broke. It makes my heart hurt too much to try to put my feelings into words now. Thank you for putting yours into words.

  2. This comment is going to link to my blog about Joe Paterno, so I would love for you to read it if you are so inclined. I appreciate you writing this. Can I disagree with you about one part of this, though? Respectfully, of course. Joe Paterno did not make a mistake…he made a choice. A mistake is forgetting your grocery list when you go to the store. Or leaving your garage door open after a long day at work. A choice is deciding after being told quite clearly that a child (and in the case of this report we know that there is evidence dating back to knowledge prior to the rape in the shower) is being raped in your locker room and choosing to stay silent. That is not a mistake. I am choosing to stay silent no more. I wish Joe Paterno had felt the same way.

  3. Very well said, Tara. You know how you can say whatever you want about your family but so help anyone else who does the same? That’s the feeling I have had over the past 24 hours since the release of that report.

    I am so incredibly saddened by the news that came out yesterday, so disheartened that Joepa knew all along. I am furious at the people involved for what they did to those boys, both in the horrific acts and the cover up. And yet I am so angry at everyone who has righteously concluded that all of Penn State and everyone who has ever had anything to do with it are evil. I am quite sure that the Four Diamonds Fund would disagree.

    • YES! It’s the self righteous indignation that’s really getting under my skin. These are some snippets from comments I left this evening on a post bashing Penn State:

      Penn State is so much more than you give it credit for. Penn State is a community of millions of current and former students. Penn State is a world-class academic institution with some three hundred courses of study, dozens of athletic teams, and hundreds of non-athletic student activities. Penn State is the home of countless medical and scientific discoveries that have made our world a better place. Penn State is a philanthropic event that has raised tens of millions of dollars in the last 15 years to help kids with cancer. Respectfully, you’re dead wrong in saying pride in our school is synonymous with approval (or even celebration?!) of all the crimes that took place. It’s insulting. WE ARE so much more than that.

      I’m not defending the football program. I’m not defending Joe Paterno. I’m saying that football is one small part of what Penn State is, and it’s inaccurate to say anything else. This incident involved 5 employees out of thousands.

      If you’ve never been a Penn Stater, then obviously you haven’t got a clue what being a Penn Stater is about.

        • I should’ve made it into a post on my own site instead of leaving it in the comments of my own site. I still might. I’m pretty fired up about the Penn State bashing.

          • Ditto. Today I had a constructive and really interesting conversation with a group of people, none of whom were alumni, who clearly understood that this horrific and awful situation does not define students, the student athletes, the alumni or the rest of the faculty. It was so refreshing!

      • Eloquently put! I may print it out on notecards and hand it out to people who want to start Penn State bashing when they find out I went there.

  4. Beautifully stated. I think all Penn Staters are having a hard time getting our brains around this issue. Thanks for helping to clarify it. I hope you are well, sweet Tara. xo

  5. I agree with one of the above comments in that he made a choice not a mistake.
    Well written post, once again.
    I’m happy that they took his statue down just the same.

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