I wonder if Joe Paterno wishes he were Erica Strange today?
JoePa, as he was affectionately known, was until last evening the legendary football coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions. Last night he was justifiably fired after 46 years for his gross inaction and negligence in the wake of the massive sex-abuse scandal involving a former assistant coach enveloping his beloved campus. To be absolutely clear-the coach did not abuse any child, witness the abuse, nor his he charged with anything. Instead, his is a sin of inaction. When another assistant informed the coach in 2002 that he was a witness to "something inappropriate" between this other coach and a ten year old boy, Coach Paterno sat on the information for a period of time. When he finally did get around to speaking of the incident with university officials, it was buried so deep in paper that while the alleged offender was no longer employed by the football team, he was still allowed to bring young boys into the locker room and he was allowed to continue his work with a charity whereby he rewarded children with "special visits" to Happy Valley. (This is what the campus at Penn State is called. It sounds so disgustingly dirty now!) There are at least eight alleged victims and who knows how many more will come forward. Yesterday afternoon in a half-hearted attempt to salvage his legacy, Paterno announced that he would retire at the end of the current season. Last night the university board put him out of his misery and fired him immediately.
At best Joe Paterno's silence is troubling. At worst he was complicit. I cannot begin to understand the mindset that allows somebody to stand idly by while crime and injustice is occurring. Judaism is explicit on the subject. Aaron Kirschenbaum a professor of Jewish Law at Tel Aviv University states:
"In Judaism, the bystander's duty to come to the rescue of his fellow man who is in peril is religious, ethical and legal. A citizen is expected to engage in the act of rescue both personally and with his financial resources. He is required, however, neither to give his life nor to place his life in substantial jeopardy to save his fellow."
Maimonides went further.
If one person is able to save another and does not save him, he transgresses the commandment neither shalt thou stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor (Leviticus 19:16). Similarly, if one person sees another drowning in the sea, or being attacked by bandits, or being attacked by wild animals, and, although able to rescue him either alone or by hiring others, does not rescue him; or if one hears heathens or informers plotting evil against another or laying a trap for him and does not call it to the other's attention and let him know; or if one knows that a heathen or a violent person is going to attack another and although able to appease him on behalf of the other and make him change his mind, he does not do so; or if one acts in any similar way - he transgresses in each case the injunction, neither shalt thou stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor...
It is interesting that yesterday and today we are recalling the anniversary of Kristallnacht. On these days in 1938 many ordinary Germans stood idly by as Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues were ransacked and destroyed in one of the most public displays of Jewish persecution by the Nazis, and it is widely viewed as the beginning of the Holocaust. Joe Paterno and the officials that stood with him at Penn State are no better than any of those who stood idly by and watched innocents suffer at the hands of tyrants.
We don't get do-overs in life. It might be fun to watch the fiction on television, but reality is what it is. We all must live with the consequences of our actions or inactions. Joe Paterno may have regrets this morning, but they pale in comparison to those of the real victims-the violated children.