I've been struggling with this question for the past couple of days, once my outrage and - as Joe Posnanski so eloquently phrased it - howling died down. If I was in the same situation as any of the individuals involved in this sordid cover-up, and I didn't have the benefit of hindsight, what would I have done?
Everybody voicing their opinions, from mainstream media commentators, to local journalists, to the general public, fans of other programs, fans of Penn State, and non-fans alike, including most of us here on BSD, unequivocally agrees that if they were in the same situation, they would have called the police right away. Why? Because it would be the right thing to do. This much is obvious.
But, and I know this will anger many people and I'll probably see that in the comments below (if anybody decides to write any), I would say that if we were in Joe Paterno's (whom I will focus on for the remainder of the post for brevity's sake) shoes, about 99% of us would not be telling the truth. We would not call the police right away. And make no mistake, I am including myself in that 99%. I'm not saying that we would be lying, because lying implies that the untruth that we speak is intentional. I think that most of us are saying an untruth that we ourselves are not aware of. I'm also not saying that if, tomorrow, any of us were put in this identical situation, that we would not do the just and (morally) right thing in calling the police. I am confident that we all would. But I do think that this is because this is so fresh in our minds, and the benefit of hindsight has shown us the need to be more vigilant.
"How could you not call the police immediately?!" many of you will and already have asked. No, it's not that I'm a pedophile, of that I condone that behavior. And it's also not because I'm solely interested in my legacy or winning at all costs. And it's not because I'm a phony. I'm just trying to be as honest with myself as possible. I am a man, and I am as fallible as anybody else including Joe Paterno. I agree that Paterno made a grievous mistake and as such should not be our coach anymore, and I agree that while it wasn't handled well (actually it was handled piss fucking poorly), the BOT made the right call to fire him when he didn't resign immediately. But all of this was done with the benefit of hindsight. And hindsight is far more illuminating than foresight.
I am 32 years old. My lifetime is shorter than Sandusky and Paterno have known each other. Some of my closest friends are individuals I've known for only 5 or so years. If I was informed by the police that any of these friends was the subject of a criminal investigation into such a heinous crime (as Paterno most likely was in 1998), I would certainly be in utter disbelief. I would likely side with my friend, and believe him if he told me the allegations were false, especially if I had no firsthand knowledge to suggest otherwise. Because that's what friends do. And when the investigation closed with no charges being brought, I would be buying the first rounds at the bar for him toasting it with a hearty "Fuck those police and their BS charges! We all knew you were innocent!" And, like I wrote before, I think that 99% of us would have done the same. That is why this post isn't meant to insult the general public. We all have friends, and we are loyal to them. Without the benefit of hindsight, we can be loyal to a fault.
If 3 or 4 years after the initial investigation, somebody whom I trust, but probably trust less than my friend, comes to me to say that they did, in fact, witness my friend committing the same vile act he was seemingly vindicated of, my first reaction would be disbelief. "WTF?! I thought we were through with this" would be my likely response. Even if McQueary did give Joe the XXX version rather than the PG-13 one, I would have a hard time believing it at face value. Still I would be compelled to act somehow. But, I still highly doubt that I would have called the police then and there, just as I doubt that the vast majority of us would have. To me, calling the police implies a finality to things rather than a beginning. I know that if I dial 911, I am effectively terminating my friendship, because if a friend did that to me while I was innocent, even if there was cause for it, I would not be able forgive them. Unless I see the act with my own eyes, I don't care if it was my mother who told me, I am not willing to stake an entire friendship on hearsay. Especially if that hearsay is covered-up and not repeated to me over and over again, seemingly fading away just as the first accusations did. And I believe this will be the sticking point with most people, where many of you will disagree with me. This will be where things become most hazy in terms of really predicting what you are and are not capable of, and will be the most difficult to be truthful with one's self.
"So you put your own selfish friendship with a monster above the wellbeing of childern!?!?!" you ask incredulously. No. The benefit of hindsight makes you say that. The dimness of being in the moment clouds this decision. My loyalty to my friend is certainly wavering at this point. I'm seeing smoke, but no fire just yet and I wouldn't yet be where I am willing to this frienship it away yet. But at the same time, I cannot just ignore this, somebody else must be told. Somebody impartial but more importantly somebody who has the authority to do something should it be deemed necessary. Hindsight will tell me that I was wrong in this decision. But the uncertainty of the moment would not allow me to make any other one. And I doubt that many of us would have either.
One theme of this ramble, I suppose, is that hindsight is the great illuminator. It tells us everything about our choices and if they were the right ones or the wrong ones. Another would be that the loyalty of friendship can lead us to make mistakes, and that is not a criticism or a call to be more untrusting of our friends. After all, if you can't trust your friends, who can you trust?
It is easy to say "I would have done the right thing!" Comforting, even, since it reaffirms to yourself that you are a good and decent human being. Perhaps I'm being harsh in saying that 99% wouldn't tell the police right away. Certainly more of us would have called at some point (but we're still unsure of if and how Paterno followed up on things so I won't speculate on that). There's likely also a lot of talking heads and internet tough-guys out there who can show bravado when they're not in a difficult situation, but fold when the going gets tough, but I'm not accusing anybody in particular of that.
But it's certainly not the 100% of people out there that's currently being espoused by the internets. Whatever the percentage is, Joe Paterno was in that group, no matter how much we expected him to be in the other one. It was a horrible mistake and one that will haunt him for the rest of his life. But he wouldn't be alone. I would be right there with him, and I'm sure a lot of others would as well.