The Corner

Penn State and the Wages of Cowardice

It is a sad irony that on a day dedicated to honoring the heroes in our midst, the news will once again be dominated by the tragic consequences of abject cowardice. And it wasn’t the cowardice of just one person, but of seemingly every person up the chain of command at Penn State.

It was cowardly for a 6′4″ graduate assistant to witness the rape of a child by an older man and not only take no action to stop it but also not even call the police. It is a sign of extended adolescence — no, extended infancy — that instead of doing anything to help a child in distress, he called his father, acting not like a man but like a child in distress himself.

It was cowardly for a college-football legend to do the absolute bare minimum required by law (if he even did that) in response to contemporaneous reports that a child had been abused in the coach’s own facility. I’m sorry, Coach Paterno, but the call to your athletic director did nothing to defend the defenseless, and when you saw that nothing happened as a result of that call, it was your absolute moral obligation to take action.

It was cowardly for an athletic director to hear reports of abuse and do — nothing. The way of the coward is to seek self-preservation and the preservation of your friends and cronies. The coward keeps the gravy train rolling and revels in the accolades even as he knows terrible truths — truths he will never, ever have the courage to reveal.

Perhaps it is because big-time college sports is presumed to be so corrupt that we took a man like Joe Paterno — a person who did no more and no less than the job that tens of thousands of educators do every day without recognition: play by the rules, mentor the young people in his care, and do his professional best — and elevated him to demigod status. Or perhaps it’s just because we love winners so darn much. Either way, Penn State’s rioting masses clearly worshipped the wrong messiah.

An NRO commenter reminded me yesterday of this great quote from C. S. Lewis: “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at its testing point.” There is no vice in enjoying football, but there is no virtue in elevating its players and coaches to a status above that enjoyed by our nation’s real heroes. And on this Veteran’s Day, the first Veteran’s Day in our nation’s history to mark a decade of continuous war (fought entirely by volunteers), let’s push back against the celebrity and pageantry of big-time athletics.

Mike McQueary, Joe Paterno, and Tim Curley, meet Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, Staff Sgt. Leroy Petry, and the families of Corporal Jason Dunham, Pfc. Ross McGinnis, Staff Sgt. Robert Miller, Master-At-Arms Michael Monsoor, Sgt. First Class Jared Monti, Lt. Michael Murphy, and Sgt. First Class Paul Ray Smith. You could learn a lot from them.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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