My heart is breaking over the situation at Penn State, which seems to get worse by the minute. As a native Pennsylvanian and lifelong Penn State fan in a family of Penn State fans, I cannot believe the horror of it all.
Joe Paterno made a really bad decision. Or more likely, a series of really bad decisions. And he deserved to be fired over it, and I’m glad the Board did what it did.
But I feel very sorry for him. And I think it’s okay to feel both those things at once.
Think about a time in your life when you made a bad decision. (You’ve made them. We all have. It’s part of the human condition.) Did you say to yourself, “Wow. This seems like a really bad decision. I’m going to do it anyway”? Probably not. If you’re like me, you made that decision thinking that, based on everything you knew at the time, it was the best decision to make. My bad decisions are always clearly bad in the rearview mirror. And so are yours. But in the moment, they seemed like the right thing to do.
Fortunately, most of us are not in situations where our bad decisions will harm a lot of people. Usually it’s just ourselves and those we love who are lucky enough to deal with the fallout of our bad decisions.
I don’t know the circumstances around Joe Paterno’s decision not to go to the police. Maybe he was afraid. Maybe his good friend Jerry Sandusky tearfully begged him not to go to the police…and swore that he would never do it again. Maybe he was afraid that the whole Penn State football empire would crumble. (Which it now has.) I don’t know, and you don’t know, and we’ll probably never understand it. But I believe that he made the decision believing that it was the best decision to make at the time.
He’s 84 years old. He has spent 46 years building something that has now been ruined overnight. He will never recover – he simply doesn’t have enough time left.
So maybe just a little compassion is in order?