Update, Jan. 22, noon: Joe Paterno passed away earlier this morning.
Last week, Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post published her feature on Joe Paterno, the first public interview with the former Penn State football coach since he was fired last November. In the article, Jenkins manages to put together various pieces of the Penn State puzzle, and also looks at the bigger picture of what the charges against Jerry Sandusky mean for society.
Regarding the allegations, Paterno recalls moments in the past when accusations of Sandusky's actions were brought to his attention. In 2002, Assistant Coach Mike McQueary went to Paterno to report what he witnessed in the Penn State locker room showers. "You know, he didn't want to get specific," Paterno said in the interview. "And to be frank with you I don't know that it would have done any good, because I never heard of, of, rape and a man. So I just did what I thought was best. I talked to people that I thought would be, if there was a problem, that would be following up on it."
Jenkins's profile of Paterno does not seek to blame or tear apart the man who headed the successful Penn State football program for decades. What it does is expose one of the biggest problems in society: the lack of conversation and education about sexual abuse. There are some who will say it's "over-covered in the media," but what they're thinking of is the sensationalization of these stories in the media that often tend to miss the real problem: it isn't that this stuff only happens to high-profile people; it happens everyday, everywhere.
Yesterday, the New York Times took a look inside the world of college sports and asked an age-old question that is now at the surface of many conversations: "Has big-time sports hijacked the American campus? The word today is 'balance,' and the worry is how to achieve it."
At UCI, there was no football team--something that many will blame the lack of campus spirit on. But UCI Athletics was a constantly growing and evolving program that saw seasons of highs and lows. While general campus spirit and interest can arguably be tied to a strong athletics program, I don't think it should overwhelm and take over the culture of learning and process of growth and maturation that should be happening at a university. We should learn to foster close communities, yes, but we should be careful of the communities we choose to protect when dangerous situations arise. The riots that followed Paterno's firing and the upset over that action taken by the university was uncalled for. We as a society need to be better than that.
And maybe not everyone can always know what to do in these situations, but the urge to not speak about "it" is damaging. Is Paterno at fault for what happened to Sandusky's victims? No--not exclusively, at least. In many ways, society is. We are all responsible for these victims of sexual violence because the longer we as a society keep quiet, we are contributing to the perpetuation of violence and abuse.