I met Joe Paterno once, very briefly, when he and his Nittany Lions were in town for the Sugar Bowl.
The encounter was brief, and I am sure he forgot my name before he got onto the elevator at the Hilton and retired to his suite. Obviously, he was one of the greatest college coaches of all time and I was so proud to have shaken his hand.
With recent revelations of what went on at Penn State - what was allowed to go on at Penn State - that legacy is beyond tarnished. But should it be erased from history?
Both the university and the NCAA are taking drastic and dramatic actions to punish a ghost. Yes, I agree that there should be severe sanctions against the university and its football program, but erasing the memory of Joe Paterno, in my mind, also erases both the memory of and the need to remember what happened and was allowed to happen there. These horrid crimes against our society's most defenseless victims - young children - must never be forgotten.
Just inside Beaver Stadium on the Penn State campus, there has been a statue of "Joe Pa" leading his team onto the field for yet another victory. The university removed it and all marking that it was ever there. I say, they whould have left it there. Added to it. Make it a memorial to a great man who made a great and costly mistake. Make it a memorial to the young boys who had a part of their youth and all of their innocence taken away by Jerry Sandusky. Add bronze figures of these young men, on the side, silently crying as Joe Pa turns a blind eye and focuses only on football.
Such a memorial would stand as a constant reminder to every fan who enters the stadium. It would remind them as they head to their seats, decked out in official Penn State gear, what price paid to maintain an image and win football games.
Auschwitz and Treblinka stand today in Europe as constant reminders of the horrors of the Holocaust. Had they been torn down after World War II, part of that memory and the need to remember the horrors that occurred there would be errased. They remind us all in the hope that somethinng so horrible never happens again. The bricks there cry out to make each of us to promise that we can not let it ever happen again.
What happened at Penn State - as in the fiendish acts of a sad, sick man - unfortunately will happen again somewhere. But a reminder of how a great man turned a blind eye to something that horrible, in order to protect something ultimately as frivilous as a football program, might keep others from turning a blind eye to similar crimes against humanity.
If such a memorial, in the end, saves just one child from the horror of sexual abuse, it was worthwhile. To borrow from my Jewish friiends, "To save one is to save many."
We must never forget.
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