By Tom Ehrich
The Times’ coverage of Joe Paterno’s death made me want to reread the great tragedies of classical literature.
Who knew that “Joe Pa,” as his legion of admirers at Penn State called the fabled football coach, was devoted to classical tragedies? It explains how he could have had the courage to say he wished he had done more when informed that a longtime assistant was assaulting young boys.
Rather than deny, deny, deny, as our current crop of politicians would do, and then blame, blame, blame when the furor didn’t die with denial, Paterno had the grace to admit his error in not going to the police and following up with university officials.
He didn’t trot out his wife to take the fall with him, or dispatch his children to provide cover. He understood his fatal flaw – like the fatal flaw that undoes every tragic hero – and he took the heat.
I hope that the many who believe Paterno was unfairly caught up in the sex abuse scandal will hear that admission some day. For as many football games as he won, as many young men as he guided to decent lives, as generous as he was to the university, as noble as was vision of the university’s calling, perhaps his greatest act of character was to admit his error.
That is the story they should be telling in the halls of Penn State and elsewhere. For in these tragic and toxic times, the refusal of people to speak the truth and to accept responsibility and consequences is corroding our nation’s character.
We all have flaws. We all fail. Only true heroes accept their flaws, learn from their failures, and seek amendment of life.