Last week, the news broke that the NCAA would lift most of the sanctions on Penn State, brought about by the Sandusky issue.
I have long been a Joe Paterno fan. I quoted him a few times in my first book, ("Harry Kalas Saved My Life") and remain an unabashed PSU fan because of his legacy.
My heart ached when the story broke. I defended Joe to the hilt, often receiving terrible ridicule because of my vocal support -for what it was worth- of Coach Paterno. Then the Freeh report was released and I took the bait like so many folks did. Through doctored emails, misquotes, and disinformation, I was swayed to the "Joe did wrong" side. I didn't think he'd done much wrong, mind you, but I thought he had done something. Most of what I saw as Joe's wrongdoing was based on one little comment. In the report, it was mentioned that Joe did, in fact, follow up and ask about the Sandusky matter soon after the initial incident in 1999. (As it turns out, this was misrepresented) Contrasting that to his testimony 12 years later, before the Grand Jury, where he said he did not ask about it again, caused me to believe Joe lied. Two words I could never imagine connecting in one sentence.
It broke my heart to admit to what I believed to be fact at the time. I even understood the vacating of the wins. A friend made the case that covering up the crimes gave Joe a recruiting advantage. To be honest, after months of ferociously defending JoePa to folks on social media and call-in sports shows in Nashville, where I was living at the time, I was just tired of it and heartbroken that my hero had done wrong.
I didn't want to believe he had done wrong, and I admitted it through clenched teeth. But honestly, somewhere in the depths of my heart, I was hoping that facts would emerge one day that exonerated Joe. Because I always believed him to be a good and decent man. I don't bestow the term "Hero" on many people and Joe had been a Hero of mine for most of my life.
During the three years since his death and the subsequent release of the Freeh report, his family defended Joe's honor, quietly, carefully and with great dignity. They did not whine. They did not make light of the victim's plight in the least. They kept alive Joe's great legacy of charitable works on PSU's campus and they gently fought back against what turns out to be a vile, despicable, purposeful misrepresentation of facts, and even a manufacture of false evidence out of whole cloth.
They didn't rant and rage, even thought, in hindsight, they could have. They had the faith and the foresight to simply stand on Joe's character and legacy and believe that right would triumph in the end.
Joe's restoration was evidence of the over reach and malicious hypocrisy of the NCAA, the horrible scapegoating by the BOT of Penn State, and the seeming glee within the media to indict Joe, simply because all of his life he has been a good man. This may sound outrageous but I watched as very quickly the story moved from the monstrous evil of Jerry Sandusky, to the portrayal of Joe Paterno as the real culprit. It was a travesty. The handringing of those who have waited half a lifetime just to sink their teeth into the flesh of a man they disliked solely because he was a good man.
It's not a stretch. Look at our society these days. Good is seen as evil and evil is celebrated. Character is seen as a weakness, and the man who claws his way to the top by treachery and deceit is held up as a model while a man of integrity and faith and goodness is smiled at as a naive fool. People wanted the accusations against Joe Paterno to be true, simply because they didn't want a good man around to remind them of how high the bar was.
As Joe's family slowly, methodically, carefully fought back, I felt a sense of relief. I saw that goodness still had some value. I saw that the depth of the man's integrity stood up to the battering of those with an agenda at odds with that goodness and, though dented and scraped, the goodness prevailed.
I don't think "Now Joe can rest in peace." I think that because of the life he led, he was in peace from the moment he breathed his last. The truth is...now we can have some peace. Being good, and doing good still matters. And if you do good and be good long enough, false accusations won't stick.
I am so happy that Joe's wins were restored. Not because of the wins themselves...they are football games, and we are talking about much more. But I'm glad because I am raising a 16 year old daughter in a world devoid of real, good, decent people. A world sadly lacking in heroes. One of mine was given his dignity back and I, for one, am happy about it.
God's speed Coach. Thank you for the example you left us. Thank you for being good.