Joe Paterno And Human Actions

STATE COLLEGE, PA - Silence seems apt when nothing makes sense.

"If the most ironclad form of determinism is real, you could not do anything about it anyway, because your anxiety about determinism, and how you would deal with it, would also be determined."

-Steven Pinker, from "The Science of Good and Evil" by Michael Shermer

It didn't occur to me until late Sunday morning why our cultural stories are devoid of the complex personality. I need to care for you to succeed as an author and, frankly, there's just no time. Are you not committing each character to either virtue or villainhood with every line? Well, then you're writing the 2006 version of The Last Kiss. IMDb isn't sure beyond a statistical error if your artwork is better than Road Trip staring Tom Green.

If we can't care about Joe Paterno in the context of narrative, what's the point of sports television when we could just as easily create another reality pawn store show? My personal proof that the former head football coach is even a real person is nothing more than two separate events in which I was, for seconds, within ten feet of the man. And yet, I've been writing about the institution he built for year now.

Paterno was a paramount part of the college football script, and that's why we're talking about him today. But being a script, his role needed established by the storytellers. Drawing up tidy little character developing features in his name was a pretty doable task in 1968. It was intern-level editorializing when Paterno won national championships and institutionalized the Grand Experiment. It turned harmlessly conflicting when Paterno couldn't prove beyond a reasonable doubt he was young enough to carry on in 2001. It became utterly impossible in November of last year.

Joe Paterno is dead, and I'm still unable to reconcile anything.

How could a man accused of instilling no influence to prevent the worst kind of harm be called the most important influence in the lives of players who didn't even like the guy?

How could a man who cared so very much about Adam Taliaferro and his tragic tale not be seen showing the same public support for child abuse victims in 2002, or at the very least after the Grand Jury report in 2008?

How could a man who suspended former running back Austin Scott the week before his (subsequently dropped) sexual assault charges not banish Sandusky from football buildings after official accusations were made?

How could a man unwilling or unable to ask Mike McQueary for more details also be investigative enough to make a pattern out of unannounced trips to his players' classes to keep track of attendance?

How could a man be so defiantly resilient in the face of his institutional superiors in 2004, yet not have taken control of the Sandusky situation in 2002?

How could a man so well-versed and clearly in love with the classics not see a real life sickening tale staring him in the face, the lead role cast by a man he'd knowing of for decades?

There aren't answers to any of those questions, by the way. Admitting that is not helping resolve my understanding of what just happened.

It's frustrating. What's more so is that there are perfectly reasonable questions -- what exactly did everyone know, what exactly did everyone do, why the hell was Sandusky in the weight room this fall? -- that we aren't likely to have answers to and therefore aren't likely to be able to judge and project upon. Or maybe the specifics don't actually matter. Prohibition was supposed to cure all social ills rather promptly in 1919. A mandate for full information about how the institution of Penn State failed might end with just as much futility.

Either way, we're now living in a Paternoless world where the events just are, because of the conditions that caused them. I'm concerned by the very real possibility that this is going to have to be good enough.

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