This is going to be a serious one. So I titled it with a pun. A really bad pun, so you know that it must be really serious.
Since the eruption of the Penn State Sandusky scandal, there have been floods of people coming out in support of Joe Paterno and his failure to report the abuses beneath him. When Paterno died a few days ago, the debate reopened with the same flood of apologists. Because he sums it up better than I, here is PZ Myers’ take on Paterno (http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/01/23/how-many-football-games-do-you-have-to-win-to-make-up-for-one-broken-child/):
Joe Paterno is dead. He won a bunch of games, and that’s the best thing he’ll be remembered for, which is awfully trivial, if you think about it. The worst thing he’ll be known for? He closed his eyes and kept silent when children were raped.
I’m imagining a scale. In the right pan are heaped all the great accomplishments of Joe Paterno — and it’s all inconsequential fluff, balls thrown across lines on the ground, numbers on scoreboards long since forgotten. In the left pan…well, we start by throwing on one child’s tears, and the balance tips with a leaden thud, the beam crashes to the ground, the whole assembly splinters and falls apart.
We’re done. The man’s life has been weighed and found wanting.
I can’t agree more with this sentiment. The day after Paterno’s death, I somehow inadvertently found myself watching the ESPN cycle at 4 in the morning. What I saw was frankly unjustified necro-fellatio of a man who should be remembered as a cautionary tale on the rightful limits of loyalty and devotion.
The fans quoted on the program certainly lived up to their title’s etymology. One was quoted saying “99 percent of his life was good…it is a tragedy”. I’m not going to rejoice in a man’s death by any means, but I think we should all ardently strive to keep enabling child rape out of our “1 percent” of misdeeds.
Another fan, clearly aggravated, proclaimed that “He (Paterno) was a hero” and that “we should all look up to him”. That needs some serious clarification.
Joe Paterno was not a hero. He was a football coach with an impressive win percentage. I am utterly shocked that his greatest fault and ultimate foil is being met with such praise: his “loyalty” and “dedication to his community”. He certainly was loyal, and was unarguably dedicated to his fucking community image. But come now: placing that loyalty and dedication ahead of the well-being of children? That is not something to applaud.
I’m going to unashamedly hop onto the Godwin train to nazi town here: there were plenty of Nazi officials who were incredibly dedicated to their country. Surely many of them had ethical qualms with what was going on underneath them. However, we do not treat these people with the “well, they were loyal and dedicated to their community” schlock or claiming what patriotic chaps they were despite it all.
So I propose this: we should all regularly take Paterno-ty tests*. By this I mean that we should all take a moment to self-evaluate: are our priorities in line with our ethics? We must keep our values straight, and not forget what will happen if we don’t: we should and will all be held responsible in the eyes of humanity for the good we don’t do, as well as for the blind eyes we turn to the shadows around us.
*I am so sorry for this pun. I really am.