RIP Joe Paterno

Thus endeth the saga:

Joseph Vincent Paterno, the winningest coach in Division I football history — a title that will likely endure given the transient nature of today’s relationships between school and coach — was 85. His death came two months after it was revealed he was being treated for lung cancer.

It is to be regretted that a sick old man spent his last three months living in public shame due to a single moral failure of the sort that many, if not most, men in similar positions of authority have made on one or more occasions. If overlooking the transgressions of a colleague is to be considered tantamount to committing the transgression itself, every single member of the police forces across the country should be in jail, if this is the yardstick applied.

On the other hand, the sad last chapter to Paterno’s life is an object lesson that one mistake, of the wrong kind and at the wrong time, is all that it takes to ruin a reputation built up over decades. Barack Obama, no great thinker he, once said that his daughters shouldn’t be “punished” for the rest of their lives for making a single mistake. Setting aside the dubious assertion of whether or not having children is a punishment, many lives are altered in the blink of an eye by a single mistake. Simply failing to look both ways before crossing the road can end a life and affect a dozen others, just to give one example.

So, it’s fair to remember that Joe Paterno wasn’t a saint. But it is not right to pretend that he was some sort of monster, rather than a decent and much-loved man who once failed to live up to his ideals at precisely the wrong time and place.