I consider Penn State one of the finest institutions of higher education in this country. I also happen to be a rabid PSU football fan. It’s little exaggeration to say I rank my love of Joe Paterno just below my love for Family, God, and Country. The scandalous allegations surrounding the institution, it’s esteemed football program, and one of the most revered coaches in college football history have left me reeling.
I grew up just about half an hour from State College, PA. Our family boasts a number of Penn State graduates – none of which played football – but all of us bleed blue and white. One of my fondest childhood memories involves being allowed to stay up late, in my footie pajamas, eating pretzel and ice cream, jumping up and down cheering PSU to a National Championship victory in 1986.
I wanted my son to have those memories too. . .But now all of that is in question.
I’ve read the grand jury findings. I’ve read op-ed pieces. I’ve been glued to my Twitter feed. I still have not formed a well-developed personal opinion about the allegations, how they were handled, or whether Joe or Mike should be coaching this weekend. Like so many other PSU loyalists, I’m in a state of shock, disbelief, and yes, I think I’m grieving a little.
Given my education, I cling to the nearly visceral belief that everyone is entitled to due process under the law. I’m patiently waiting to see how the situation plays out.
In the meantime, my thoughts have turned to my own son. What will I tell him about this dark time in Penn State’s history? How will I explain to him that a program that prided itself on honor and integrity found themselves in a situation that, at best, appears to be the cover up of some horrific and egregious allegations?
To say this is a teachable moment is an understatement.
Unfortunately it’s not an isolated incident. Here is another situation where the leaders of large, seemingly reputable institutions seem to have put business ahead of their obligations as morally responsible adults. It’s rampant in corporate America. It’s pervasive in our government. It happens every day – big and small. . .Adults allowing themselves to be compromised by unchecked power, greed, and a host of other less-than-positive-motivators.
How do I teach my son that just because something is technically legal, it’s not necessarily morally correct? How do I demonstrate inaction and tacit agreement can be just as nefarious as deliberate action?
I’m not predicting the collapse of our society. To the contrary, I hold great hope for our society. I also know that in order for my hopes to be realized, we must teach our children in no uncertain terms that doing the right thing, no matter how difficult, is an integral part of being a responsible adult.
And in this world, that’s often a very difficult thing to teach.