Things change. 2 years ago, Joe Paterno was a sports legend who was revered by Penn State fans and respected by all. Unfortunately we didn’t know the whole truth at that time and now that we have been enlightened, I think it is fair to say that the public opinion of Joe Paterno has changed drastically.
I don’t want to discount any of the good that he did throughout his career – both on and off the field. He was a philanthropic and educational champion but a poor decision to participate in the covering up of horrific acts committed by a co-worker and friend might be his everlasting legacy. It’s tragic that he lost his job and his life in 3 short months. However, given what we know now, the Paterno statue in Happy Valley must be taken down. People can not continue to honor him anymore and leaving that statue up becomes a constant reminder of the past 8 months. When a little kid walks up to that statue 10 years from now and asks “Who is Joe Paterno?” The answer will have to include Sandusky and how Paterno’s career came to it’s unfortunate end. In order for everyone to move on, including the victims, the statue must be taken down.
One of the major human flaws is that we constantly view things in black and white and attribute permanent character traits to people. For example, if someone is nice, then they are always nice. But how easy is it for someone to be nice one day and mean the next? It happens all of the time and it is very rare that you find final character traits. People make bad decisions and people change. I believe that you have a spectrum of character and you fall somewhere on that spectrum on any given day. Paterno is without a doubt on the nice spectrum but he deviated to the border with his actions (or lack thereof) regarding Sandusky. There are very few things (if any at all) that are black and white. A gray area almost always exists and this is something that is hard for us to accept. For this reason, we work hard to avoid them and consistently speak in black and white terms. I want a happy-ever-after story as much as the next person but it is not always reality and speaking in generalities and extremes only perpetuates the lies.
I have many celebrity role models, but I also take them with a grain of salt. The role models that I cherish more are those in my personal community who directly influence my life, and speak with me consistently. I know them infinitely better than I do my celebrity/sports role models and chances are if they are hiding a character-damaging secret, I will find out about it much faster. It’s a lot easier to get the whole story from those with whom you speak first-hand. Furthermore, you can have knowledge of and accept their gray areas instead of being fed an idealistic, fairy-tale image of a celebrity.
For all of the good Paterno did, he also caused a lot of harm by his inaction. The faster we accept this, the faster can move on. The first step in accepting his flaws and changing 70+ years of adoration is taking down his statue.