Joe Paterno and the Dangers of Old-Fashioned Values

I haven’t read Joe Posnanski’s entire biography of Joe Paterno yet, but I was really struck by this section of the excerpt published in GQ:

On Monday, the family tried to persuade Paterno to read the presentment. He objected that he already knew what was in there, but they told him there was no room left for illusion. D’Elia would remember telling him, “You realize that the people out there think you knew about this? They think you had to know because you know about everything.”

“That’s their opinion!” Paterno shouted. “I’m not omniscient!”

“They think you are!” D’Elia roared back.

Later, D’Elia described watching Paterno read the presentment: “What did he know about perverted things like that? When he asked Scott, ‘What is sodomy, anyway?’ I thought my heart was going to break.”

One of the consensuses around Penn State seems to have been that, Sandusky or no Sandusky, Paterno stayed on as head coach longer than he should have. That quotation alone is a reminder that, for all that we praise old-fashioned values, there can be willful ignorance or dangerous squeamishness that goes along with being old school. If you want to lead, especially on a college campus, and maybe especially if you’re running an athletic program, you really can’t afford to be delicate about sex. The world changes, and you can’t hold it back or close your eyes to it.