Saturday, July 14, 2012

Stop making excuses for the inexcusable

This was a letter I sent to The Duke Chronicle, the newspaper at my alma mater, after our winning basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewki (aka Coach K) who is lauded similarly to Paterno, defended Paterno in the New York Times last November

"As a proud Duke alum who is also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I was appalled and disgusted by Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s attempt to make excuses for his fellow Coach, Penn State’s Joe Paterno, for not contacting police when informed of a horrific act by then assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. (New York Times, The Quad 11/14/11) Coach K wants us to give Paterno a pass based on his age (“one thing you have to understand is that Paterno is 84 years old) and thus the “immense changes and how social issues are handled in those generations.”

For a man who in June taped a show for ESPN with Paterno about “ethics and integrity and issues related with college athletics,” Krzyzewski’s moral ambivalence and his insistence that Paterno remains a “great man in a horrific situation,” makes clear that he needs to revisit his understanding of integrity, ethics and greatness.

When teaching writing workshops, I always start with character, because exploring human nature is what makes writing such an endlessly fascinating pursuit. Plot discussions focus on throwing stumbling blocks in the character’s way, so he or she is forced to make choices, because in the immortal words of JK Rowling’s Albus Dumbledore (drawing on Sartre) “It is our choices…that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

The point Coach K doesn’t understand, or perhaps chooses, willfully, to miss, is that it’s the choices one makes when faced with such a horrific situation that prove whether one is truly great, not the number of football games or basketball games won.

Joe Paterno has achieved many wonderful things in his 84 years. But like many who could have achieved true greatness, he had a tragic flaw, one that resulted in children who might have been saved being sexually abused. His legacy is rightfully tarnished. Coach K shouldn’t be in the game of making excuses for the inexcusable."


  1. Well said. It can be painful when people we admire do horrible things, but that doesn't mean those horrible things don't exist.