A while back I talked about how one of the themes in Garth Ennis’ The Boys is a platonic reflection on how it is better to be an unjust man with the reputation of a just man than to be a just man with the reputation of an unjust one. Unfortunately, the real world has served us up a rather disturbing, and disgusting, example of exactly this. I speak of course of Joe Paterno and his firing from Penn State.
For those who have remained blissfully unaware of the events, a man by the name of Jerry Sandusky is accused of molesting children over a period of approximately 15 years. At least two of the incidents are said to have happened on Penn State property. In at least one case, a graduate student, a former football player who worked for Paterno, is said to have walked in on Sandusky in the act of molesting a child. This graduate student did not intervene; rather, he left the room, called his father, and then called Paterno. Paterno is said to have kicked it up the chain of command, which according to his defenders somehow absolves him of blame.
“Joe Pa” was aware of the accusations. He was aware that the administration of Penn State elected to keep quiet about them. The graduate student who did nothing not only continued to work for Paterno, but received promotions in exchange for his silence.
If Joe Paterno was a good man, he would fired the graduate student. If Joe Paterno was a good man he would have told the administrators of Penn State to go fuck themselves, and taken the information to police and prosecutors himself. If Joe Paterno was a good man he would have done these things even if they cost him his job and his reputation.
However, Joe Paterno is not a good man. He is not a humble man. He is not a man worthy of respect or admiration. Because to him, protecting his reputation, and the reputation of Penn State and its football team, were more important to him than doing what was morally right. He is an unjust man with the reputation of a just man, and that reputation has benefited him greatly. One merely has to look at the people leaping to his defense, frantically searching to place blame on anyone but their beloved “Joe Pa.” One merely has to look at the money he brought in for Penn State, and for himself.
Are the trustees and administrators, the graduate student, and anyone else who was aware of this also to blame? Of course. I don’t defend them in the slightest. Yet none of that absolves good ol’ “Joe Pa” of what he has done. For those who have made the claim that we can’t judge the man without knowing him: yes, we can. Because this cruel, calculating man has shown the world exactly who he is when you take the reputation for being a just man away; Joe Paterno is a man who allows allegations of child molestation to go univestigated for the sake of preserving his “good” name.