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Letting a Statue Block Your View of Right and Wrong

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Look past the statue at what is right.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Look past the statue at what is right. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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There is, naturally, a lot of analysis floating around the interwebs in the aftermath of the Freeh Report. While tragedies like the Sandusky scandal are horrible, it is comforting to know that out of them we often learn a lot about ourselves and the way things are in the world around us. Some of the best writing of the last year has been making sense of the horrible nature of Sandusky's crime, the insular culture that bred the cover up, and the things that need to change in and around the Penn State football program and University as a whole to ensure that something like this is never allowed to happen again.

I don't have much to say on this that I haven't already said. I wrote this back in January to mark Joe Paterno's passing, and I was ripped by quite a few Penn State fans for it. However, looking back with what we know now, my words don't seem nearly strong enough:

So by all means, eulogize the man. He has earned that much through years of dedicating himself to his players, his school and the betterment of college football. Just don't forget that in the end every man is defined as much by his failures as he is his successes. Joe Paterno succeeded more than any man in the history of college football ever has, and arguably ever will. He also failed when confronted with the most dire circumstance any man in the history of college football has ever faced. It all counts in the end.

You can't pick and choose how to remember the man to make yourself feel better. It is all part of his legacy now, and it was ultimately his choice.

It is clear now that Joe Paterno didn't just make one mistake. Neither did Spanier, Curley, or Schultz. This was something much deeper, and in the end much more saddening. The myth of Joe Paterno that everyone spoke of, the idea of the Grand Experiment, and the pride of "Doing It The Right Way" was the impetus for the cover up. These men were so blinded by the good they purported to do, that they refused to allow themselves to confront the terrible reality of what was going on under their noses. They wanted to move on from it. It was merely an inconvenience to them. There was more good to be done elsewhere. More players to graduate. More accolades to receive from the public at large. As the rest of college football seemingly rotted in plain sight, Penn State's culture rotted from within because the men with the power and knowledge to act couldn't get over their hubris and act.

You can never take away the good things a man does in his life. The positive waves still ripple outward, touching those who are the beneficiaries. Paterno, Schultz, Spanier, and Curley did a lot of good things in their life, they helped a lot of young people, and even though it feels uncomfortable to hear Joe Paterno's family talk about graduating players and winning games in the wake of a huge child rape scandal, those accomplishments still stand. Nothing has been erased, we just have a greater context for those accomplishments now, and they look much smaller when placed in the background against a real, human tragedy.

The important thing is what is in the foreground from now on when we talk about any of the four men: a damning report of a sexual abuse cover up by men at the very pinnacle of their profession, all sworn to serve and protect young people, mold future generations of responsible adults, and uphold the virtues of Penn State. Two of those men will rot in jail, the third will lose a life's savings. Paterno will -- rightly so -- lose a legacy of "doing things the right way" that it took him a lifetime to build. These are all a small price to pay when weighed against the damage that was done as these men looked the other way waiting for things to blow over.

There is a statue on campus to recognize all the good that Joe Paterno did. It honors him as "Joseph Vincent Paterno: Educator, Coach, Humanitarian." He was all those things. He was also the thing that lets a man willingly cover up sexual abuse because he wants to handle it in house rather than involve the authorities. In that light, the statue pales in comparison to the looming shadow of the harm that Paterno and the others caused.

Those four men refused to look past the statue so that they could see the truth: that the right thing to do isn't the one that gets you plaudits, legacies, and statues. Sometimes the right thing is just the right thing and you have to do it even when it might make you look bad.

Not doing the right thing ends up making you look a whole lot worse, and that isn't even close to the worst consequence of doing the wrong thing. Just ask the real victims. Paterno, Schultz, Curley, and Spanier never did.

Links to other Freeh opinions and reactions after the jump...

Jason Kirk - Joe Paterno Should Have Gone To Jail: 6 Takeaways From The Freeh Report

These things all happened. It hurts to acknowledge them. Anyone with any reputation can make a terrible mistake and compound it with another terrible mistake. Leave the statue up. Tear it down. I don't care. It's now both a memento and a warning. It's one of the best arguments in our entire country against power and against institutions, so maybe it should remain right where it is forever.

Al Tompkins - How Open Records law would have stopped sex abuse sooner at Penn State

Mutchler says the exempted school police departments are the only police departments in the state that do not have to comply with state open records requests. Even the FBI must comply with open records filings, but not Penn State’s cops. That would become a key way the 1998 report about sexual misconduct by Jerry Sandusky stayed hidden for more than a decade.

Brian Cook - Paterno And The Mini-Fridge

If Penn State had not been posited as a Grand Experiment, it's possible that one of the four adult-type substances who could have put Sandusky's second career to a stop a decade before it did would have had more regard for the possibility children would be raped* than for what people would think about them. It's too late for all of them, perpetrator and victims alike, now. But to me the lesson is to shut up about yourself and get on with it. It will help you not make terrible mistakes because you are trying to preserve what people think about you in the face of what you really are.

Matt Hinton - Freeh Report: Cover-up topples the final facade of Paterno's legacy

Instead, Penn State is left to confront a record of crippling insularity and deceit. When Paterno died of lung cancer in January, barely three months after being fired from the only job he'd really ever known, it was tempting to hope that there could be two eulogies, one to the celebrate the greatness of what he built, and one to lament the tragedy his (almost literally) fatal flaw. But the more we learn, the less room there is for anything but tragedy. And whatever else is still in store for Penn State via the Department of Education, the NCAA or the inevitable civil suits filed by Sandusky's victims, the epitaph is set in stone: Nothing was done and Sandusky was allowed to continue with impunity.

Rob Daniels - Time for Indignation Nation to Chill

If they need any further proof, they can take their cue from Phil Knight, who delivered a poignant and passionate defense of Paterno at the coach’s funeral in January. On Thursday, the Nike CEO spoke of his enduring love and respect for Paterno, but he nonetheless announced that the legend’s name is coming down from the on-campus day-care facility for children of Nike employees. It’s important to note what isn’t in the Nike release. It doesn’t chastise the Freeh report or excoriate anybody. It sounds like the lamentation of a wounded parent who disciplines a child without disavowing him or her altogether.

Michael Weinreb - Joe Paterno's legacy at Penn State in the aftermath of the Freeh Report

This was my fundamental mistake. This was our mistake, as a community. The Grand Experiment began as a sales pitch, as a way for Paterno to elevate the standards of the university he loved by using football as the lure. And then at some point, the lure outweighed the catch, and the sales pitch drove motivations, and we were too myopic to see it. At some point, the little white lies that Paterno hid behind — that he would retire after five more years, that Bowling Green was, in fact, a formidable opponent, that the culture of football was in no way segregated from the culture of the university at large — ballooned into this, into a lie so unthinkable that it takes your breath away.

Bobby Big Wheel - Penn State, You're About To Get Sued: Freeh Report Provides Ammo For Civil Lawsuits

A judge would probably roll his eyes and make a hand-wank motion if Penn State tried saying that Sandusky wasn't an employee.

Sara Ganim - Analysis: FBI Director Louis Freeh, state's results differ greatly. Why?