No, I wouldn't have minded some honest schadenfreude. Alas, no such luck.
Instead of coming out directly and saying how they hated his holier-than-thou attitude, they copped some of that same attitude themselves and criticized him for failing to live up to his own standards. Except that for so many years, they'd ridiculed those standards because they required an acknowledgment that there are moral absolutes, right and wrong, black and white.
JoePa was the laughingstock of so many professional sports reporters and athletes because they didn't like being told that sin was real, not just a theoretical construct you learn in philosophy class. I suppose that's understandable, because no one likes to be told that the only reason he can't succeed is because of his own weakness and lack of discipline. The days of Vince Lombardi are long gone. And so, now, those of his immigrant brother.
It's interesting how Paterno's critics have suddenly "gotten religion." Usually when a grand jury issues a report, we talk about the legality or criminality of an act. Now, people who'd normally avoid talk of morality as if it were a plague of locusts are fascinated with the state of your soul.
That's what Penn State alum Franco Harris had to say when asked his opinion. During an interview with Fox news, the hero of the "Immaculate Reception," Harris observed: "The grand jury found out that Coach Paterno cooperated fully with them . . . and then all of a sudden something comes out about a moral obligation and everybody jumps on that . . . I think it is unfair how people were treating Joe with this issue because Joe is a highly moral person and great moral character."
And there you have it. The real reason so many people are angry, justifiably or not, isn't really that Paterno made an alleged error in judgment. They're incensed that he preached a certain kind of old-fashioned, non-negotiable value system that perhaps made them feel unworthy, incapable, unexceptional. And now, here was the chance to take a tragic case of, at the very least, inexcusable neglect, and at the worst, criminal conspiracy, and use it to remove that pious preacher from his pulpit.
One of my readers proffered a logical reason for this, noting that "the average person wants to believe the worst accusations about another because it somehow moves that average guy up one slot in the batting order, at least in his own mind."
There's a good deal of truth in that. It's a lot easier to tear the other guy down than to pull your own self up.
This is not to say that everyone who criticizes Paterno is doing so because he's threatened by Paterno's ethical code. As some readers reminded me, JoePa himself admitted that he should have done more, although what that "more" would have entailed is still questionable. Clearly, some are genuinely aggrieved at what they view as their hero's abdication of responsibility after so many years of holding others to a higher standard. But these people are outweighed, judging from my in-box, by those who are tired of overtly virtuous men.
To those who might say that this has nothing to do with an aversion to goody-two shoes and is only about child abuse, I have two words: Tim Tebow.
The former Heisman Trophy winner is not doing too well on the gridiron these days. His Denver Broncos look nervous every time he steps out of the pocket. But it's Tebow's in-your-face Christianity that angers so many of his critics more than his stats.
Smarmier-than-thou Matt Taibbi from Rolling Stone magazine recently wrote that "God must not know s--- about football if Tim Tebow is his idea of an NFL quarterback." God and a four-letter word in the same sentence; give that guy a Pulitzer.
The point is, you don't need to be enmeshed in a sex scandal for the media to ridicule your moral principles. That's just icing on the cake.