Joe Paterno died today, and instantly created one of the most awkward scenarios possible. His memory will carry the weight of a lot more than he could handle himself. He just barely beat my two month estimate of how long he’d hold out after this all broke, so it’s no surprise. The kaleidoscope of this whole thing has been in place for a while. See, there hasn’t been a man that was subject to more extremes in recent history. He was both close to the best and the worst all at once; and now finding a way to meet in the middle as the curtain calls on a number of sagas all at once is a road that can split in a variety of ways.
For me, wrong is forever wrong and once you’re in it, it doesn’t change. The circumstances can become clearer, and degrees can be softened, but the judgment of the scenario doesn’t shift just because time passes. However, some rights also aren’t impacted by a wrong in one area. Paterno has given new clarity to this definition with what happened in his life, not his exit from it. However, this will definitely lead to some that will see it as justice and some will see it as a resolution point. It’s neither of those things, no matter how it is turned over and looked through.
Celebrating a death isn’t right, and it doesn’t change anything that’s happened here, but it has already begun. This is one of those scenarios where those types of excesses will be common. But in a time where extremes are the norm, looking past those is where the truth lays.
Much of it comes down not to what side of the road you stand on Paterno today, but where you were at regarding him last November. It takes an extreme circumstance to erase image of the winning coach in college football’s history as anything but an immortal, but that’s what happened. Letting him off of whatever hook you placed him on in the face of the Penn State sex scandal now is too easy, and not the right thing to do. It’s easy to absolve individuals of their faults when they die; to provide a sense of respect for everything they were beforehand. That’s no good. However, the complication in the Paterno case was always compounded by the view of his interaction, and the undeniable reverence that 409 victories gain a man. It’s a high cliff to fall off of.
The responsible and reasonable way to go about it is to take it as a chance to place him in his proper lane. And that’s a merger of where you were already. If you felt he was as wrong as Jerry Sandusky was in the first place for his role in the tragedies that happened under his watch, I’m sure you won’t let his death be a reason to let him be pardon. If you saw him as a bystander caught in the whirlwind of an all-encompassing issue that he was pulled into, as opposed to a proponent of, your view of him won’t change either.
Then there’s the pure sports view on him, which was nowhere near short on opposing views long before the end of last year brought what it did. Can you purely respect him as a long-standing pillar at annually competitive program that reached the summit a few times, or a monarch that held on to his power for too long, past when it was healthy for his team…or himself?
However, the truth of the issue is that while the last few months of his life brought a sharp and new crowd to the opinion of him, the realistic place he falls into now is a purgatory that very few occupy. In the sports world, it’s a rarified air that OJ Simpson and Pete Rose have made infamous. Where the greatness of what they achieved is sharply pulled by an issue that will forever be debated about how deeply or wrongly their crimes should implicate and stand against their achievements as well.
In death Joe Paterno is a lot of things that he already was, and no further event or amount of time will change what he had become already. There’s no reason to rejoice in his demise, but there’s also little reason to have much decided remorse either; a very sudden and strange end to a scenario that had a surplus of everything, and will continue to.
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