Where do I begin? Earlier in the day, I was ready to rip Joe Paterno apart for the comments he made in an interview with The Washington Post. As the day went on and I did more research for this column, I started to rethink what direction I wanted to go. I still hold JoePa responsible for what happened with Jerry Sandusky after he was first told about the alleged abuse. That opinion will never change unless somehow it is proven that Sandusky did nothing wrong and everyone one of his accusers confess to making up their accusations.
So why did I soften my stance for this column? Cancer. Paterno is battling lung cancer. I have great admiration for cancer survivors. I have been a caregiver. I have seen what cancer does to people, their loved ones, their relationships and their lives. Now was not the time for Penn State’s former coach to do an interview discussing the tragedy that unfolded and ended his storied and career.
Paterno often struggled with his thoughts as the drugs that are designed kill the cancer and save his life were taking their toll on his physical and mental capabilities. Chemotherapy will do that to you. Cancer brain is often joked about when a cancer patient is receiving treatments and forgets things. Cancer brain is an actual medical condition and one that can’t be avoided. The interview he did should have been conducted shortly after his dismissal.
I can appreciate that Paterno wanted to talk about the Sandusky story. It cost him his career. He tainted his own record, his life and his legacy. I am not exactly sure if this interview truly gave him an opportunity to set the record straight. I believe he was sincere. I believe he was trying to be honest. Unfortunately, the combination of being in his mid-eighties and being in the middle of a battle to save his life is not the optimum time for an interview of this magnitude.
The story of Joe Paterno has changed over the last few months. He went from revered to revolting in many people’s opinion for allowing his friend Jerry Sandusky continue to abuse children after he was informed of the disgusting behavior that Sandusky conducted. He tried to explain to The Post that he didn’t know what to do. That he felt overwhelmed and didn’t realize that men did that to other men. I hope that was the chemo talking because if his comments were coherent, it illustrates how out of touch Paterno was from life let alone his football program.
I have said many times that Paterno was the ultimate authority at Penn State during most of his career. When he said that he reported what he learned about Sandusky to his superiors, please understand he had no superiors at the university. He was the end all, be all of human existence at Penn State.
It is sad that Joe Paterno is battling cancer. No one deserves cancer. Cancer has destroyed more lives than I even care to ponder. I know the tragedy of cancer personally.
In an episode of M*A*S*H years ago, a very upset Hawkeye Pierce sat down with his commanding officer and head surgeon Henry Blake after losing a patient in the OR. Blake profoundly put it into perspective to Alan Alda’s character when he said, “Look, all I know is what they taught me at command school. There are certain rules about a war and rule number one is young men die. And rule number two is doctors can’t change rule number one.”
Here is what I have learned after twenty plus years as a journalist, rule number one is many head football coaches think they are gods. And rule number two is journalists can’t change rule number one.
This column was originally written and posted on BeyondUSports.com by Bruce Silverman.