By Brian Patrick

(From the February 2012 issue of Compete Magazine)

All of us at Compete were truly saddened by the recent death of Penn State University’s legendary former football coach Joe Paterno. Sad not simply because of his passing but also saddened because a great man with an outstanding and unblemished coaching career had his legacy tarnished because of the recent child sexual molestation scandal of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

Because that scandal led to Paterno’s firing along with Sandusky and other Penn State staffers, his death is being met with mixed reactions from the sublime to the ridiculous. Jane Kellogg of The Hollywood Reporter seemed to hit the nail on the head in her January 22 headline: “While Westboro Baptist Church plans to picket his funeral, Jerry Sandusky, former President George H.W. Bush, LeBron James, and more praise the revered former head coach, 85, whose legacy was tainted shortly before his death by a child molestation scandal.”

In the January issue of Compete Magazine we congratulated Penn State’s president and board members for the courage to take quick action to remove all those involved, a position that we continue to hold. Football programs, especially the powerhouse program Paterno built, are huge money makers for institutions of higher learning with notoriously slim budgets! So when colleges and universities make controversial decisions that involve big money and alumni who are often willing to bend if not break rules when it comes to sports, you can be sure there will be lots of conflict involved. So again we congratulate Penn State for having the courage to do the right thing.

But what’s really sad is that Paterno, or JoePa as he was affectionately known, was one of the good guys who cared as much about his players as he did his program. There’s no doubt that he was a great football coach but he was also a great proponent of education, pushing all his players to be good students and to finish their educations. His sterling reputation as a coach was well deserved. Yet at the very end he had to leave the school and football program he loved under a cloud because he didn’t take appropriate action concerning allegations of sexual assaults on at least eight underage boys by his assistant coach Jerry Sandusky over a 15-year period.

With all the allegations about Sandusky’s behavior over the years, it’s hard to believe that Paterno never heard about them, especially since many of the assaults were said to have happened on or near the University’s campus. Did he decide to dismiss them as gossip? Did he ask Sandusky if any of it was true? We’ll never know. The only thing we do know is that he took no appropriate action when he should have.

The subtitle for the Intangibles column is “the little things that make a difference.” Some of the greatest acts of courage are the little things that make a difference. Those acts of courage are often made in that instant between stimulus and response in those little everyday decisions we make. Despite our Monday-morning quarterbacking responses, none of us know exactly what we would have done in Paterno’s situation since we’ll never know the exact circumstances he faced. So rather than take sides on what is already done, let’s choose to learn a lesson of courage from this horrible happening. We can’t change what happened to those children who were affected but what we can change is to not let it happen to someone else when we find ourselves in a similar situation. Instead, let’s decide to make courageous decisions, to do the little things that really DO make a difference. This is the month we celebrate Black History and its many leaders. So it seems perfectly fitting to end this with a quote on courage by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said that “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” How true!