For the record I am pleased that Joe Paterno’s statue was taken down, and am hoping for a crippling response to the Penn State football program based on the horrific news of child abuse. Joe Paterno’s luster is gone.
Today Maureen Dowd’s column, which is always a must read, muses about Paterno.
Paterno is the tragic figure in the case, the man who went to church and taught his players “success with honor,” but succumbed to supporting depravity. His name was derived from the Latin word for father, and JoePa was the beloved paterfamilias of Happy Valley. So how did he crack his moral compass?
It’s the story of “Faust,” a morality play that unspools daily in politics, banking, sports and the Catholic Church. It has taken many artistic forms, from puppet theater to the Marlowe and Goethe plays to opera to a buoyant musical that was also a sports morality tale, “Damn Yankees,” about a middle-age real estate agent who sells his soul to be a slugger named “Shoeless Joe” Hardy for the Washington Senators.
Like Dr. Faust, Paterno was a learned man, an opera lover versed in the classics. A graduate of Brown University, JoePa was known for quoting Virgil and Shakespeare in his Brooklyn accent, and loved the Robert Browning line, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”
Certainly, he was grasping with both hands in January 2011. As Jo Becker reported in The Times, Paterno began negotiating to amend his contract and get a sweeter deal with luxury perks like use of the university’s private jet, even as prosecutors plumbed the depths of Sandusky’s pathological behavior.
In an interview in 1987, Thomas Ferraro of United Press International asked Paterno about his holier-than-thou image. A few skeptics said JoePa was an egotistical zealot who would do anything to win, Ferraro wrote, but most people idolized him as “the saint in black cleats of the often seamy world of college sports.”
Paterno replied: “It scares the heck out of me. Because I know I’m not that clean. Nobody is that clean.”
And it turned out he wasn’t. Louis Freeh, the former F.B.I. director who conducted the school’s investigation, found that despite the denials of Paterno and his family, the coach knew about a 1998 allegation that Sandusky had abused a child in the Penn State showers.