Penn State Scandal: Not National Honor Society Material

Joe Paterno was an icon. He was the face of a major college football program and, arguably, the face of an entire university for over half a century. Known as “Joe Pa” on the Pennsylvania State University campus, Paterno was always regarded as one of the most influential coaches in college sports. It was only a few days after his hiring as head coach in 1966 that he began to conduct what he liked to call, the “Grand Experiment.” He hoped to bring academics closer to athletics in the college environment, an idea that was not at the forefront of college football during that time period. As he often stated, his main goal was to mold his players into honorable, educated, well-respected members of society. The football program’s slogan said it all: “Success with Honor.”

However, it is that exact slogan that made the recent events and reports from Penn State all the more perplexing, bewildering, and flat-out unbelievable. The fact that the same man who consistently exhibited “saint-like” behavior could have been somehow linked to child sex abuse cases, was unimaginable. The chilling grand jury report stated that former defensive coordinator of the Penn State football team, Jerry Sandusky, had sexually abused young boys for over 15 years, a crime that would make even the meanest of criminals cringe. The report also stated that after finding out about one of the incidents from his graduate assistant, Paterno had only informed the athletic director. Even after seeing that no actions had been taken toward Sandusky over time, Paterno still neglected to bring his findings to the police. It was a poor, unethical decision by a man who had developed his sparkling reputation based on honor.

As much as it pains me to think that there can be something positive to take out of the events that occurred at Penn State, I cannot help but see Joe Paterno’s poor actions as an opportunity to re-emphasize our roles and responsibilities as members of society. It comes as no surprise that Paterno was fired following these allegations. I feel that this was a correct move at the time and I, by no means, agree with Joe Paterno’s decisions regarding the information he received. However, at the same time, I still feel that this one low point in his life should not invalidate all the good he did during his previous 50+ years of coaching. As a member of the National Honor Society, I can only marvel at the positive impact he had on the university and his football players. He was able to instill and demand a standard of scholarship, character, leadership, and service from his players—the exact qualities that members of the National Honor Society try to demonstrate every day.

In addition to being able to learn from his positive morals and teachings, we should also be able to learn from his mistakes and wrongdoings. If you break it down to very simple terms, Paterno was only trying to help protect his friend from getting in trouble. However, this situation was more than refusing to rat out your friend for stealing a cookie from the cookie jar. If Paterno had made the right decision to inform the police, it is amazing to think about the impact he could have had on many children. A man with his power and respect could have stopped the whole situation before it spiraled out of control. Not only did he fail to meet his moral obligations as an important member of society, but also he failed to follow the simple rule that our parents have been telling us since we were very young: do the right thing.

As the victims and their families try to recover over the next few years and we move onto college and our future careers, I truly feel it is important to think about this event and reflect on our own lives as well. It is imperative to realize that we have to fulfill our moral obligations in society. It is our responsibility to make good decisions and prevent events like these from ever happening again. We are here to make the world a better place for the people around us. As Joe Paterno emphasized in his years of glory, if we can all manage to live our lives full of “Success with Honor,” the world we live in will change drastically for the better.