A Wake in Happy Valley

If nothing else, the passing of Joe Paterno shows what an elusive quarry justice is to grasp. No matter whether Jerry Sandusky harmed 1 or 1000 boys, Coach Paterno had to go. His program, his assistant, his failure to follow through on what, by any account, was a horrifying report from his young graduate assistant. So what is the proper way to view “Linebacker U.”? Do all of the lessons in ethics and discipline that Coach Paterno taught go for nothing? Should the trustees remove the statue of Coach Paterno from the stadium? Obviously not. The many, many student-athletes who graduated from his tutelage and have gone out into the world to accomplish great things, whether in the NFL or in other professions, are an important part of Joe Paterno’s legacy. Through his teaching, he has made the world a better place. Through his trust in Jerry Sandusky, though, the world became hell for a number of young men. But here’s the thing — where is justice for them? If Sandusky is convicted and sent away to prison, that might bring a measure of closure, but what is true justice for the brutal theft of innocence and youth? How can Sandusky be brought to true justice for starting a lifetime of horror for each young boy? And if he’s acquitted, what then? Does that mean he is innocent — morally innocent, in addition to his legal status? How will we know? After all, does anyone really think that Casey Anthony didn’t put the duct tape on her daughter’s face? And does this mean that schools and programs that seek to build a high sense of personal responsibility in their student-athletes are all frauds? Ultimately, no. Coach Paterno should have gone back to his superiors to make sure that they investigated that terrible night thoroughly. He should have gotten Sandusky into a private office and demanded the truth. He didn’t, and that will give his statue a permanent shadow. None of that means, though, that his statue should come down. What it does mean is that in all valleys, Happy or otherwise, doing what is right is an exercise of constant vigilance.

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