Today Penn State University unceremoniously removed the statue of Joe Paterno from in front of Beaver Stadium. They erected a temporary fence, brought in a forklift and took it away wrapped in a tarp. It looked like a body bag. Like Joe had died all over again.
In the days that have transpired since the Freeh report was released, I have had to come to grips with the sad truth that a man I revered as a role model, and an example of how one should live ones life, had failed when it mattered most.
This morning I was torn as I watched the statue come down. It had to come down...I get it. As long as this Sandusky mess is being talked about, that statue will be the lemon juice being perpetually poured in the paper-cut.
I have accepted Joe's role in this horror. And it broke my heart. Maybe somewhere deep in my soul I am secretly hoping that some new documents will be unearthed and we'll find out that Joe went all over the state trying to find justice for those boys and found himself hitting blockades at every turn. Somewhere in my heart I guess I hope he'll somehow be vindicated in a year, or ten, or twenty. But I know that won't happen.
I've thought about all the angles. All the questions that really are fair and really should be answered. Like with all the investigations going on from 1998 until 2009 who was left for Joe to have spoken up about this to that didn't already know, and buried it just as much as Joe did? That's a fair question. I want to know why ALL those agencies failed. I want to know how Jerry Sandusky adopted SIX kids and was foster parent to more, and not ONE caseworker caught this monster or was even suspicious. (My friends who have adopted know the gigantic microscope they place in your butt to get through the process) How did he fool those experts?
I think it's fair to ask for the head of Tom Corbett on a platter, politically. The governor of Pennsylvania took $200,000 from Sandusky's group knowing his office had been conducting an investigation into allegations in 2003. He approved a 3 Million dollar grant to Sandusky in 2011 right after coming to office...in the same calender year Sandusky was arrested. He had to know the grand jury had convened on yet another molestation accusation.
I want to know why cops, and caseworkers and teachers and people outside of Happy Valley and away from the influence of PSU football missed this animal. There are answers yet to be discovered.
Maybe those answers will ultimately reveal a wall that was too high for even Joe Paterno to scale.
But I doubt it.
And so his statue has to come down. And it breaks my heart.
I grew up without the influence of my father in my life. I gravitated to my coaches from my earliest days. I thank God I had good men without proclivity for this sort of sickness because as desperate as I was for a father figure to pay attention to me I would have been an easy mark.
In my life there were two men I especially looked to as role models. Two men about whom I said to myself "I want to grow up to be men like this". Two men I saw as the epitome of what a good, charactered, integritous, solid man should be and what he could be. Those two men were Brian Piccolo and Joe Paterno.
The funny thing is I didn't even play football and only cared about it from the standpoint of a fan watching on TV. I played hockey and baseball and those were my passions.
But somehow when the time came for a very young Craig Daliessio to find himself a raised bar to meet or exceed...I discovered it was set by two Italian football guys. One a hard working player who fought a gallant battle against the insidious enemy of cancer, and the other a dark-haired coach who was legendary for training men to be men beyond the field, and who graduated players, and whose charges never got into trouble and always became so much more than just ex-jocks.
Brian Piccolo taught me that your life is of great value no matter how well you do in your career. That it's about how you touch others that really matters in the end. Was this world better for your having been in it, if even for a tragically short time?
Joe Paterno taught me something else. For years I thought he taught me about fairness. About hard work, integrity, playing by the rules, emphasising what was really important--more important than the final score. I thought he showed me the ultimate team spirit when he never relented on the issue of not having player names on the backs of the jerseys because no player was bigger than the team as a whole.
Maybe that's the most tragic thing in all of this. Because in the end...it was that "Nobody is more important than doing what's best for us all" thing that he betrayed. It turns out that when doing what was right was going to jeopardize the team, he chose to avoid doing what was right.
I have been wrestling all week with Joe's legacy. What is it and what remains of it? Those who say he is as guilty as Sandusky...please. Stop with that nonsense. It's not the same. To say that denigrates those poor boys, grown into adulthood now, who suffered at the hands of that monster. Joe's guilt in this is different.
But nonetheless I can't seem to hold up Joe as any sort of measure of a man anymore. That's why I think the statue had to come down. Can we undo all the wonderful things Paterno did in his lifetime? No...no way that can happen. Does this one failure render them invisible? Does it mean he was a bad coach after all? A scourge on the earth? No. What makes this so sad...so heartrendingly sad to me as not just a "fan" of this man...but as someone who lived his life hoping that I would measure up to Joe Paterno's standard in even the smallest way...is that it doesn't undo his tremendous acts of generosity. It renders them meaningless. And that is far worse.
What good is it if Joe stood for all these things, said all these things, taught these great lessons, graduated such a high rate, impacted so many young men...and showed a young kid from the suburbs of Philly what kind of man to grow up to be...if in the one moment that mattered most he didn't live it? Joe Paterno living by those rigid standards and guiding the lives of countless thousands of people doesn't really mean anything now...because when he most needed to have the spirit that wore nameless jerseys and did the right thing no matter the cost...he failed.It only took one failure. Sometimes all our good doesn't outweigh our bad.
I don't hate him for it. I'm not going to spit whenever I speak his name or reject the valuable lessons I took from afar as I watched him live his life. But I have this gigantic hole in my heart when I think about all that good...wasted. All those lessons...empty. The final chapter being sadder and uglier than the beauty of all that was written before. It's not that this whole thing showed us that Joe Paterno was never the man of the statue...it's just that when it mattered most he wasn't. And that makes all the times he was statuesque, meaningless.