When you walk the charming streets of State College, Pa., and the Penn State campus, it's clear that Nittany Lions football isn't just a pastime there, it's what drives the community and university life. Images of "JoePa" are everywhere, particularly in the windows of the college bookstore, where you can buy life-sized cardboard cutouts of coach Joe Paterno.
These tailgate party and dorm room staples have sold briskly for over 25 years under the name "Stand Up Joe," a testament to Paterno's reputation as the guy who became the most successful Division I college football coach in history by maintaining his integrity and dedication not just to athletic success, but to the academic mission of the university. Indeed, according to the Penn State Liberal Arts website, students enrolled in a fellowship named after Paterno "agree to distinguish themselves in areas traditionally associated with the liberal arts: ethics, service and leadership."
The biggest story in sports this week, if not this year, involves Jerry Sandusky, a loyal Paterno assistant for 30 years, who has been indicted on 40 counts of sex crimes against young boys. Most shocking is the revelation of a 2002 incident when current assistant coach and former Penn State quarterback Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant at the time, encountered Sandusky sexually abusing a 10-year-old boy. Instead of calling the police, McQueary went to Paterno. He waited another day before telling administrators, who have been indicted for covering up the incident.
Anyone who has played for a charismatic coach or who knows about the cult of personality that exists around college football won't be surprised to hear that McQueary turned to Paterno instead of the legal authorities. In a society that holds up coaches and big-time athletics the way we do, is this ignorance of moral obligation inevitable? Is to think otherwise naive?