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On Sunday evening, Penn State Head Coach Joe Paterno died of terminal lung cancer. Media speculation the next day has been centered around whether depression from being fired by Penn State for not disclosing to police authorities information he learned about allegations of child abuse on campus exacerbated the cancer. These ruminations come, of course, after weeks of a mostly one sided argument that Penn State should have fired Paterno for not taking the more moral route, which was to share these sordid allegations with the police.
At the heart of the matter, however, should not be a debate about whether Paterno should have been fired for not adhering to a particularly moral obligation. Nor should it be about whether Paterno’s death was caused by subsequent guilt and melancholy after his shortcomings were exposed.
These arguments are essentially smoke and mirrors enshrouding the truly difficult issues that need to be resolved. Penn State authorities failed to report to the police the alleged behaviors of assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, a man who could be a serial child molester. Upon suspicions of his misconduct, Penn State University allowed this man to continue to supervise children in summer camps and young adults in the regular season without first investigating if he was guilty of child abuse. On a more general level, troubled children in this country are frequently lured into hallowed sanctuaries and are sexually abused. Even more frightening, far too often, men who are granted immense amounts of power and authority in this country are doing terrible, terrible things.
The sickness is not Joe paterno’s morality. If anything, it is this: some 3,000 students protested the Penn State collegetown streets, tearing the campus up in the process, after they learned that Paterno got fired. However, by far fewer students protested against their university’s failure to address this grisly issue at an earlier date.
Now that Joe Paterno has passed away, perhaps we should take a moment to think about what the term “Rest in Peace” means. Whether you agree or disagree with how Paterno handled the terrible allegations which were brought to his attention years ago, the bottom line is that an 84-year-old man with lung cancer and who was most likely severely depressed after being fired from the job he loved died yesterday.
His family, including his elderly wife, will now have to live on without him. If this country really subscribes to the true meaning of “rest in piece,” then it should end the en mass debates about Paterno’s morality or his tainted legacy, and move on. For those who just can’t get over Paterno’s behavior and the aftermath, perhaps the better thing to do would be to direct their attention toward activities and discussion that can actually influence a change, like this one.