By now we’ve all heard the tragic story from Penn State University, where many people have come forward to tell their story of abuse. Joe Paterno and his staff have built an icon in State College and developed a reputation on and off the field as being a premier place not only to play football, but to develop yourself as a young adult. Joe stood for values, quality of relationships, putting discipline into schoolwork ahead of sports, and so many other principles that we all know are important to succeed at anything in life. Joe spent fifty plus years on the coaching staff, forty-six of them as head coach. He built the Penn State reputation, as well as his own, one game and one season at a time masterfully for four plus decades. Just a week or so ago, it all came crashing down because of one incident (at least that is all we know at this point, as there may be others). If what Joe is saying is true, and that he did go to his boss after learning of the abuse, that was a good thing. You should go to your boss at your company if there is a problem. However, it is what Joe did not do that caused the house to fall. Joe should have also gone to the police, which he did not. What his reasons were is a mystery to us all. Certainly he and the university would have a lot to lose, but that fact has nothing to what his moral, legal and ethical obligations are to do the right thing.
What this horrible story teaches all of us is that we need to understand the power and impact of each and every decision we make. Every relationship, every conversation, every sale, every incident has tremendous power and potential to do us and many other people. Depending on what we decide to do, say, or act on, or not do, say or act on determines whether the outcome if favorable or destructive. In this case, the destruction is enormous and is likely smoke that may lead to a bigger fire.
This story really hits home for me, as I was born in University Park, PA when my parents were students at Penn State. Joe became the head coach the year after I was born. Growing up in PA, the influence and reputation of Joe, his staff, the team and the university was incredible. How sad it is that the house the Joe and others spent 50+ years building came down in one incident because one or more people did not do the right thing when it counted. The put themselves, their jobs and their reputation ahead of doing what was right. Let’s learn from these mistakes and do the right thing in every situation we find ourselves having to make decisions, even when they are hard decisions to make.