Joe Paterno: The Sin Of Apathy

As many people should know by now, college football’s winningest coach, Penn State’s Joe Paterno, has been fired.

After coaching for 61 years, and just last week finally getting the last win he needed to have the most wins in college football, even more than football legend Paul “Bear” Bryant, JoePa has been fired for a singular, heinous sin: Apathy.

See, for a period of about 15 years, one of JoePa’s former assistants Jerry Sandusky was apparently engaging in sexual activities of various levels with no less than eight boys, some of whom were rather young, and sometimes performing these acts on the campus. In 2002, then-graduate assistant coach Mike McQueary came to JoePa, reporting that he had seen Sandusky engaged in sex with a young boy in the showering area. JoePa then reported the incident to Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz.

“FOX News”‘s Shepard Smith sums up the general dismay about JoePa’s actions when he says Paterno did nothing illegal, but was morally at fault for not doing more, such as getting the police involved in the case immediately. Even JoePa has said “It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”

So, what was JoePa’s crime? As Smith said, he did everything he was legally required to do. Where Paterno fell short, however, was in his inaction. So many people feel he should have done something more. He should have confronted Sandusky, he should have started a police investigation, something.

And they’d probably be right. As fond of JoePa as I am (my sister attended Penn State and has nothing but good things to say about him), he perhaps should have done something more. But in these situations, people are so very capable of talking themselves out of stuff, especially if they’ve never run into it before. They say to themselves, “No way. That can’t be right, can it?” Heck, some people may not have even reported it to their superiors out of disbelief.

Apathy and inaction are cruel, unfortunate sins that grip everyone. And in this case, we cannot solely blame Paterno for inaction.

Why did McQueary not stop Sandusky when he saw the act taking place? Call for help? Where is the call for his resignation? He SAW the act taking place and waited until the next DAY to report it. Yes, he was likely shocked, but if we’re sacking JoePa for his lack of moral action, McQueary should fall under the same stroke. Others have suggested similar things. (You can read the Grand Jury presentment here, should you be curious about all the details of what happened.)

The Penn State president has also been ousted, and Curley and Schultz are being charged with failure to report the incident to authorities… so I can’t help but wonder why everyone is so upset at Paterno alone. There was failure from people all along the entirety of the ladder. In my mind, Paterno is actually the least morally culpable of any of them. Not that he shouldn’t or couldn’t have done something… but so many others should have taken actions before Paterno.

It’s unfortunate. A great man, a great asset to Penn State, is to be tainted in his memory by one simple crime almost all people are guilty of: apathy.

Apathy is a sin that grips so many people in so many ways, and it is even encouraged by many. Take, for instance, the Occupy Wall Street movements. So many people laugh such movements off, saying that nothing will change, such actions are pointless. You can read some of those sentiments in this opinion printed in The Crimson White. So many are content to keep plugging away and silently complain to themselves and people close to them that things suck and something should change, but so often when change is offered, they stay out of it.

Another instance would be the American Revolution. Our American history books make it sound like our entire nation rose up together in righteous anger and moral fury, and that we grabbed the shackles of oppression and threw them into the face of our British oppressors.

But in reality, it’s more like maybe 1/3 of the nation did anything to make a change. Another third actually supported the crown outright. And then the final third did what seems to be getting more and more popular these days: Stayed the hell out of it.

Inaction and apathy can lead to so many problems. Injustice thrives in apathy. I could bring up so many other examples. The case of Kitty Genovese is popularly used, though the specifics people like to talk of have been generally disproved: A woman stabbed and raped to death while neighbors took little or no action. Every day, domestic abuse can be heard by neighbors who just plug up their ears and stay out of it. Child rapists can even continue their actions while others simply pass the buck to people that are more in charge than they.

All that is required for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing. I’m going off of memory on the specific words of that quote, but I believe I’ve got the basic meaning down. Inaction and apathy are the silent velvet glove evil and injustice wears. It isn’t an iron fist we need to worry about. It is that small voice in the corner of our mind saying, “Let someone else worry about it” that we need to be vigilant to watch against.

Do I think JoePa should have been fired? …I don’t know. I know that he was a source of good for that community in many ways beyond football, and that he shouldn’t be hung by a rope made of one terrible mistake. I know that his absence from the school will be missed. I can’t say whether or not I think he should’ve been fired, because I’m not sure. But if you’re going to fire him, McQueary all the way to the top should be fired, too. The great thing about inaction is that so many people can do it. And all of those people should be held responsible when a reckoning comes.

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3 thoughts on “Joe Paterno: The Sin Of Apathy

  1. […] HomeAn ExplanationWho Am I? chaoticpen Words in their manyfold forms. « Joe Paterno: The Sin Of Apathy […]

  2. […] talked about bullying before. I’ve talked about the dangers of apathy and shifting responsibility. I’ve talked about the essential legalization of harassment in the name of […]

  3. […] written on the Paterno case before, but I kind of want to talk about it from a different angle. Recently, the story of JoePa, the […]

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