Joe Paterno, The Greatest Generation and the Sandusky Scandal
I have the privilege of working in a multigenerational context. Most of the people we bury are from an era that was dominated by post-depression economics, World War II and a slow paced life that is hard to understand in today’s world.
Joe Paterno is from that generation.
He was a throwback to another world that only exists in the memories of a group of men and women who are quickly becoming extinct. Joe was part of a remnant of a world long past who somehow managed to be relevant in the present.
If fact, there’s few like Joe. If you had asked me a couple months ago, “Who do you know that fought in WWII and is still in the work force?” The only answer I could’ve given you was, “JoePa.”
And today he died.
A relic from a world past who managed to not only thrive in the present, but bring his old-school mentality with him. Which is both why he was loved so tremendously by the student body and alumni of Penn State and it’s also why Sandusky was allowed to happen.
The WWII generation can stake legitimate claim to the Greatest Generation … they were a great people (many of whom I’ve known in life and death) who had a tendency to be silent about things we (gen x’ers and millennials) want to talk about.
This “let’s not talk about it” attitude was most likely a product of all their gruesome experiences from WWII, stories that no doubt made them question their own goodness, the goodness of others and the goodness of the world. Would you want to talk about how you brutally murdered a young German with your knife while you both wrestled around in a fight for life? Would you want to talk about experiences like watching your close friends get blown to pieces?
And maybe their perspective is the right one … maybe the activism of the 60s and 70s … our tendency to protest … our love to speak out our views … our social media … has caused us to talk too much … to speak our opinion too much … to call people out too much.
Where we vocalized, they kept silent. Where we talk about our faith, they simply went to church. Where we need a shrink, they wanted silence. But this didn’t mean they were inactive; they did, after all, stop one of the biggest bullies to have ever existed.
I can guarantee that JoePa knew nearly all the details of Sandusky’s sordid raping of young boys. And I can guarantee that JoePa hated it. And I can guarantee that he simply went old school on it by brushing it under the rug.
Was it right? No!
Can I understand the attitude of his generation? The way they dealt with difficulty? Yes.
In the Jewish funeral tradition (the “Jewish remembrance” style), it’s proper to speak both the good and the bad about the deceased. In Protestant funeral tradition (the “Protestant remembrance” style), the good is remembered and the bad is forgotten. Joe Paterno’s life – sullied by his miserable failure to stop Sandusky’s raping of boys – will not be privileged with a “Protestant remembrance”. His failures – as egregious and public as they are — will not, should not, be overlook, but, I think, it can – to some degree — be understood.
And, despite our opinion of this last chapter of JoePa’s life, hopefully we can acknowledge his greatness and his dark failure and then allow him and his family to rest in peace.
What are your thoughts?