It appears that Joe Paterno did not break the law in not coming forward and making a greater effort to put an end to the atrocities that were taking place in his world. Today he has announced that he will retire at the end of this season. This, of course, solves nothing. The legal issue will be sorted in the courts, but the moral issues loom much larger and require deep thought. At this point, I dare say, the “who’s to say?” group will raise their hue and cry and insist that morality is just a matter of opinion. But this is absurd. As Hannah Arendt has noted, “there is a distinction between right and wrong, and it is an absolute distinction, unlike distinctions between large and small, heavy and light, which are relative; and, second, every human being is able to make this distinction.” It is self-evident that Mother Teresa was a good woman; it is self-evident that Hitler was an evil person. We can debate these things, but we all know this to be the case.
Joe Paterno was morally culpable if he knew about and was in a position to put a stop to the atrocities that were occurring in his own football program. Responsibility implies knowledge and ability. Given his lofty position at Penn State — some say he is higher in the hierarchy than even the President of that University — and his apparent knowledge of what his favorite assistant was up to, Jeo Paterno has much to answer for. Morality trumps the law in every case.