By Adam Gorzelsky of the Crosby FTW Podcast
When growing up, the concept of black and white…right and wrong…feverishly is engrained into our heads. Part of this is recognition that young, inexperienced minds are ill-equipped to reconcile the intricacies of a complex world. Frankly, the other part simply is an attempt to shield such minds from the harsh realities associated with such complexity.
As we grow, every day seems to provide further evidence that this world is anything but black and white…that subtle nuances pervade every event and relationship, no matter the scope or level of importance. However, no matter how many experiences drill home the need for a level-headed recognition of various shades of grey, a natural shift to the poles tends to be the response more often than not.
The Penn State situation and, in particular, the debate surrounding the Joe Paterno statue, embody this issue to the Nth degree.
First and foremost, I must state that I was lukewarm when it came to Penn State prior to the public exhibition of the heinous activities that were perpetrated upon the most vulnerable of society. On one hand, I’m a Pitt guy who would engage in the typical trash talk with my Penn State friends. On the other hand, like all residents of Western Pennsylvania, I also couldn’t help but see my life touched by the university in some aspect…Whether it was watching a game as my grandfather cursed the ground that JoePa walked on, or hearing the stories of a great uncle who tricked out a mini-bus into the ultimate Penn State tailgating machine, memories of the school coarse through my veins.
Against this backdrop, I’ve listened to a needless debate that has followed on the heels of one of the most shocking revelations in recent memory…It’s been an unending struggle to make sense of the senseless…To seek a concrete answer when one simply isn’t available.
On one hand is a class of individuals who wish to erase the legacy of Joe Paterno. Let’s be clear: I have no qualms with a sincere recognition of the gravity of the offenses that led to Joe Paterno’s unceremonious exit from the good graces of history….However, I do take issue with the manner in which this group continues to unnecessarily chastise the most ardent of supporters who have chosen to stand behind Paterno even in the most difficult of times.
When I say unnecessary, I don’t mean to say that continued support of Joe is the most logical or reasonable course of action…What I am saying, though, is that my judgment of another individual is best reserved for a time when I physically am able to walk a mile in his or her shoes. If a supporter clutches to a life-changing positive experience that resulted from Joe Paterno entering his or her life, it simply is neither my prerogative nor anybody else’s place to criticize that individual’s reaction.
I would point anybody and everybody to read We Are…Sad. my good friend Meesh’s account, written when this horrific chain of events fully came to public light. I ask you to read that touching story and to do so without an eye toward reconciling his views regarding Joe’s actions and inactions. Instead, I ask you to understand the reasonable pain and complicated emotions associated with this situation…to recognize that the pain felt from having a staple of your life removed does not in any way reflect a lack of sympathy for Jerry Sandusky’s victims.
On the other hand, I can’t help but question the logic of any individual who wishes to view Joe Paterno’s previous legacy as a blanket of good will that envelopes the fateful decisions that have gotten us to this point. There is no scoreboard…no points system to eradicate irreconcilable deeds. While the positive impact of his life’s work cannot be understated, the same certainly could and should be said for the negative impact of Joe’s actions and inaction.
If you want this to go away, it won’t…It can’t….Although a lifetime of good is not fully undone by a string of horrible decisions, abject failures in the face of life’s biggest tests simply cannot be ignored.
Ultimately, if my points seem to be somewhat irreconcilable, it’s because they are. For months we’ve discussed legacies and emotions as if there is a concrete, correct answer. Maybe there is comfort in taking a firm stand on one side of the fence, as it provides an illusion of certainty and order.
In a metaphorical sense, this was the symbolism behind the Paterno statue debate…It’s there or it’s not…No middle ground…A continued bastion of pride and a reminder of simpler days gone by, or the symbolic removal of a cancer that permeated the once happy valley…One group won and one group lost…Don’t you love it when things work out?
In reality, there are no winners in this situation…No decisions to be applauded…No statements to be made…No precedents to be set. In the end, we’re merely left with human beings attempting to make sense of the inexplicable….Calling upon our individual memories, experiences, and emotions in an effort to make sense of a previous certainty that no longer exists…Struggling to find the proper way to reconcile Joe the myth with Joe the man.
I simply posit this notion: While reaching a conclusion to this conundrum may be comforting, such comfort comes at the expense of reality. It’s okay to struggle with the complexities of this situation because life’s issues rarely fit into a neatly wrapped box. Ultimately, it’s this struggle that reflects a thoughtful recognition that life often consists of nothing more than doing your damndest to make sense of the senseless.
In the end, I simply ask everyone to take a deep breath and realize that sometimes not having an answer is the answer.