American Culture

Joe Paterno, a Shakespearean fall

“And thus thy fall hath left a kind of blot,
To mark the full-fraught man and best indued
With some suspicion. I will weep for thee;
For this revolt of thine, methinks, is like
Another fall of man.”
Henry V, Act II, Scene 2

by Terry Hargrove

King Henry V was addressing Lord Scroop, a childhood friend who had sold him out to the French just before the English invasion. If the King couldn’t trust Lord Scroop, who could he trust?

These are tough times for a smartass like me. I want to mock the Kardashians and Newt Gingrich and whatever Twilight movie is about to be released (2 parts? Really? Does she need 2 parts to decide on a crib?). But all I can think about is Joe Paterno.

If we can’t count on people like Coach Paterno to do the right thing, whom can we trust? Coach Paterno occupied a high place in the pantheon of Hargrovian idols. He was the coach who ran his program the right way. He had the undying loyalty of former players and coaches. I would have wanted my son to play football for Coach Paterno.

No more. Because, while Coach Paterno now suffers “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” he could have dodged those arrows by doing the right thing. He could have called the police. But he didn’t.

Coach Paterno isn’t the victim in all this. We may want him to be but he isn’t. Kids are the victims. In Act IV, Scene 7 of Henry V, French soldiers fleeing the Agincourt battlefield killed the English boys in the luggage train. The most innocent were the target. King Henry’s reaction to the murder of the boys was to order his men to cut the throats of all the prisoners. The most helpless were the victims. Death for death, and abomination for abomination.

People who think Paterno must go in order to create some ideal of justice miss the point. Justice can’t be served in this case. Innocence has been irrevocably lost. The accused is in custody. Now all that’s left is trying to deal with those who knew and didn’t do enough. Coach Paterno is on the list. He might not be at the top, but he’s on the list.

If only this would be the last list. If only we would have a guarantee that such a horrible case of abuse would not happen again. If only Coach Paterno was the last personal deity to fall from grace. But who can we trust now? In a sane world, we would bend all our energies to help the children, and less on those who stood silent while the devil danced in a college shower. But we don’t live in a sane world.

There is a sickness here. It infects far more than a single athletic department in Pennsylvania, a department that felt it should look away when a monstrous thing occurred, or asked the monster to take his victims someplace else. Take them away to protect the team and the team’s image and the team’s coaches. Sports in America has too much sway over me and us. We equate excellence in sports with excellence in life, and we have forgotten that the men we worship are still only men, capable of reaching great heights and spectacular falls, and some of them, in spite of the good they did, have black hearts and corrupted natures. They fail, and we fail when we’re shocked at their failures. In our obsession with sports we have each neglected our immediate world, and now we reap the rotten fruits of watching young men maim themselves for our enjoyment. We aren’t watching our kids anymore. We’re watching sports. I have it on right now. We are a country without men, having lost them to sports as surely as France lost the flower of her youth to war. What happens when a country loses its men?

“And as our vineyards,fallows, meads and hedges,
Defective in their natures, grow to wildness,
Even so our houses and ourselves and children
Have lost, or do not learn for want of time,
The sciences that should become our country;
But grow like savages,—as soldiers will
That nothing do but meditate on blood,—
To swearing and stern looks, diffused attire
And every thing that seems unnatural.”
Henry V, Act V, Scene 1

And to me, that’s where we are. The world seems unnatural. Nine young men abused, and we’re worrying about a coach’s legacy. I told you. This is a hard time for smartasses like me.

7 replies »

  1. How can you write an article accusing him of a “fall from grace” before you know anything about what happened 10-15 years ago? You don’t know what that grad student told Paterno, for all you know he could have said “Hey Coach, I saw your assistant heading into the showers after practice last night, kinda weird, huh?” And then Joe Pa did what he thought was best and notified the athletic directors, who notified the President, who did nothing. Obviously this is an unlikely situation, but still, don’t judge when you don’t know the facts. I’m sure Paterno’s assistant was close to him and he had trusted him, and to this day the guy claims he ‘s innocent, so it would be very tough to turn him over to the police on the grounds of one graduate assistant’s word.

  2. We equate excellence in sports with excellence in life,

    I cannot understand people who allow themselves to think like this. Because make no mistake – if this is an accurate reflection of your reaction, that’s what you’ve done. I’m not in the least interested in the cult of sport or how anyone was raised or even sad, vicarious living through supposed supermen. If you consider yourself an intelligent, reasonably decent human being, there’s no excuse for it.

    Coach Paterno isn’t the victim in all this. We may want him to be but he isn’t.

    No. “We” don’t. “We” didn’t consider that for a second. When we see an adult male who hid children being raped for at least ten years in order to protect himself and his legend… no. We don’t want him to be a victim. Maybe you do.

    We’re watching sports.

    Tell you what. Next time, turn that off before you beat your breast in public. Your wracking guilt would be a bit more convincing if you weren’t feeding the beast as you typed. You may not have known about this specific incident, but gee – wasn’t that list of the evils of sports obsession easy to write? It’s almost as if you already suspected…

  3. >We equate excellence in sports with excellence in life

    Why would anyone do that? Basically, everything Ann said.

    When I think of excellence in life, I think of people whose contributions are remembered long after they’re gone. Scientists, composers, artists, the occasional political figure of great conscience, etc.

    My elementary school had athletic awards, and no academic awards. That’s a pretty good illustration of what’s wrong right there. Imagine a different world where little boy’s trading cards were of people who really matter instead of athletes – “I’ll trade you a Mandela for a Feynman” … a world where a pen used by a poet laureate is worth more than a ball hit out of a park by a steroid user. That would be a better world.

  4. I’m glad to have stirred some stuff up. Annonymous, sign your name or disappear. Ann, thank God we have people like you to instruct us in the ways of outrage. I have felt rather overwhelmed by this whole story, but you know just how I’m supposed to feel, and I don’t feel that way. Damn me.Damn me right to heck! GFW, I agree that such a world would be a better place, but we don’t live there. We live here. It gives me no pleasure to use the collective pronoun “we”, but when I write about this country, I think it applies. It even applies to Ann. Title IX demands it, I think.I spent 27 years in the classroom, and I also lamented the lack of recognition for academic achievement. That hasn’t changed.

  5. Thanks Sam. My apologies to Chris. This whole thing has me shaken. As the father of an 8-year-old son, I am very afraid of the world now.