Given how much I’ve written on the Penn State scandal, I was quite interested to hear Joe Paterno’s interview with Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post. (Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/colleges/joe-paternos-first-interview-since-the-penn-state-sandusky-scandal/2012/01/13/gIQA08e4yP_story.html ). Upon reading the interviewthere is one specific point that I am even more confident in: Paterno should have been coaching Penn State at the age of 84, as evidenced how he responded to Mike McQueary’s report of Jerry Sandusky’s actions.
I do not doubt what Paterno said about how he handled McQueary’s report. But what is telling is when Paterno said he didn’t know what to do with that report, so he waited a day to call his superiors. As I theorized in my earlier posts, I believe that this was an issue that Paterno didn’t have a full understanding of given his generation. That isn’t his fault. But there in lies the problem: Paterno was in a place where he was the one who had to know what to do.
Paterno’s explanation mirrors that of Jim Tressel’s, who said he was scared when he first got an e-mail that his players were connected to a shady tattoo artists. Major college coaches do not have the luxury of passing the buck, and if Paterno did not know how to deal with this situation, he needed to step aside. In the situation he was in, Paterno at least needed to his personal attorney or one of his sons, to make sure what was needed to be done was done. And certainly, the most gaping hole in the story is why Paterno never asked Sandusky himself about the incident. Even if the two had drifted apart, Paterno should have known Sandusky well enough to confront him.
This failing on the part of Paterno is really a failing of leadership. Leadership is not the blind wielding of power out of one’s right to do so; it is doing what is best for a group or an institution, even when it means asking for help in a tough situation. That real leadership comes out of humility.
When I read this story in the Washington Post, I wondered to myself if Paterno asked himself with any kind of honesty, if I don’t understand what it means for a man to rape another man, should I really be in a position where I need to deal with it? Sadly, the world had passed him by, and Paterno was the last to know.