Measuring Good And Evil

“I balanced all, brought all to mind, the years to come seemed waste of breath, a waste of breath the years behind, in balance with this life, this death.” -William Butler Yeats

Former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno gave one last interview before he died on Sunday, to Sally Jenkins. The interview appears in the January 14th edition of the Washington Post. Jenkins appeared on Slate’s Hang Up and Listen podcast to discuss her final interview with the football coach.

Both the article and the interview make it clear that Paterno wasn’t a monster. He isn’t the incarnation of evil. He did do good things. He demanded academic success of his players in a world where that is often deemed unimportant. Hea donated a large part of his personal wealth to the university. He was supportive of players, especially of those from a disadvantaged background.

In Hang Up and Listen, during the interview with Jenkins, Mike Pesca says:

“Journalists always have to debate where to play the bad stuff in the obituary of a person who has largely done good.”

How, exactly, does one weigh the good against the bad? Paterno may have done a great number of good deeds during his lifetime. Does not properly reporting child rape count as a single blemish? Is it justified by saying “Well this one time he didn’t report his friend raping a ten year old boy, but he did everything else right?”

I don’t think so. I don’t think any of the good things he’s done should be discussed as a counterbalance to his gross inaction in this scandal. I think that nothing “makes up” for his behavior. One singular failure on the magnitude of child rape isn’t negated by a lifetime of personal accomplishments.