The Test of Character

Some of my Facebook friends have been drinking the Koolaid:

When it comes to Joe Paterno, I’m with Nancy Nall: whatever he may have achieved in life, when assistant coach McQueary came to him and told him what Jerry Sandusky was doing to a boy in the locker room, JoePa failed the test of character.

We never know when we’re going to be tested, and none of us know beforehand how we’ll fare.  As Ingrid Rowland says of the Costa Concordia disaster in The New York Review of Books,

It is hard to know who we might really turn out to be when the time comes: one of the passengers who snatched other people’s life vests, stepped on little kids, and escaped early, or one of those who turned back to save one more person more helpless than they and never escaped at all, like the missing musician, age 25, who let a woman with a baby take his place on a lifeboat.

I hope Joe Paterno had the self-awareness to wish, as he lay dying, that he had done the right thing when it counted.  I hope, when I am tested, I don’t take the easy way out.

5 thoughts on “The Test of Character

  • Oops, sorry. What I meant to say was: Without doubt, Paterno took the easy way out. But, and this is a big but, he did nothing legally wrong. First, he did not witness the incident, nor did the victim tell him. So what Paterno knew constituted hearsay. Second, McQuery did not tell Paterno in a timely manner to prevent further physical injury to the victim. Third, Sandusky did not work for Paterno at the time. Fourth, Paterno was only required to notify his superiors of what he had heard, but had no direct knowledge, which he did. Fifth, had Paterno reported the hearsay directly to the police without first going through his superiors, and it turned out to be false, Paterno would have been subject to a civil action by Sandusky.

    So what would I have done? Based on the procedures at the school where I taught, I would have handed a phone to McQuery, who had witnessed the incident, and told him to report it to the police. Then I would have called my superiors and reported all that had transpired to them. Lastly. I would have called my lawyer and made a sworn statement. (I added this last bit.)

    I think Paterno simply wanted to make this whole thing go away. Instead, he got exactly what he wanted to avoid.

    It is fun to go after the powerful and famous, but it is much harder to focus on the real bastards, in this case, Sandusky and a gutless board of regents.

  • Dick, I have had a few minor lapses in my life, times I didn’t live up to my own standards. Those lapses bother me to this day and when I don’t have more pressing things to think about, I mull over what I should have done. I bet most of us are this way, and I bet Joe Paterno was too. I hope he was.

  • Roger on the lapses. I think we all have ’em in our lives. The secret is not to fall on our swords and do push ups over them, but to learn from them, and hopefully, pass the lessons on.

  • Why is “what should Paterno [or anyone else who had knowledge] have done?” even a question? Call the police. Jeez, after all these years of Law’n’Order (thank you Art Hoppe) SVU, don’t we all know what to do? As for McCreary’s chickenshit response, what happened to “Call 911”? Or, as the draft protesters were taught to do, when asked what they would do if they witnessed an act of violence occurring or about to occur: “I would interpose my body.” There’s a lot to be said for simply getting in the way.

    As it happens, I did have one test of character which I passed and one which I failed utterly. I guess things even out.

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