Komisarjevsky: What would Joe Paterno say now?

A statue of former Penn State football coach

A statue of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno stands outside Beaver Stadium on the Penn State campus. (July 11, 2012) (Credit: AP)

In the aftermath of the report by Louis Freeh on the abuse scandal at Penn State, you can't help but be reminded of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," where Mark Antony speaks at Caesar's burial: "The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones."

There can be no question that when Joe Paterno -- the legendary and once-revered, now-disgraced football coach -- did not follow through on what he knew about the abuse of children by one of his assistants, his fate was sealed. It was a terrible decision.

I have to believe that, in his heart of hearts, Paterno knew then and there that he was making a horrible mistake and that looking the other way was an unforgivable judgment call.


CARTOONS: Jimmy Margulies' cartoons | Cartoon roundup

MORE: Newsday columnists | More opinion

CONNECT: Subscribe to our e-mail list | Twitter | Facebook


The Freeh report is damning in its conclusions about Paterno, former Penn State president Graham B. Spanier, ex-vice president Gary Schultz and ex-athletic director Tim Curley: "Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley never demonstrated, through actions or words, any concern for the safety and well-being of Sandusky's victims until after Sandusky's arrest."

Now, in yet another revelation, we hear that Paterno started negotiating a new salary package in January 2011, at a time when he would have known full well that Sandusky's crimes would engulf him too. Add to that how fast the discussion has moved to whether his statue should be torn down. (A halo on Paterno's head on a State College mural has already been painted over.)

A headline on the Internet about the report speculated about the university's motive: "Penn State concealed sex abuse to save reputation -- report."

I don't understand this self-serving focus on reputation, simply because reputation is never established in the short run. It is always a question of whether one's reputation is genuine and will endure. The right values and corresponding behavior are the crucial factors to standing the test of time.

When it comes to questions of reputation, the naive always seem to think that their problems and indiscretions will go away -- that no one will ever know. Their view is very self-serving, motivated by a desire to avoid confrontation or look the other way even if that means that nothing changes. Not tackling the tough challenges or making the hard choices never works. Time and again, what we see is that, without confrontation, behavior doesn't change and the past is left to repeat itself.

At Penn State, criminal behavior was ignored at the highest levels. It was a cover-up of tragic proportions, with lasting damage.

So, we come to the issue of reputation. Tragically, we relearn that, when the wrong values are in place, reputation will suffer if not today, then tomorrow. And most often, tomorrow it will be worse.

So, I ask myself, given what we all believed were Paterno's insistence on fair play and sportsmanship, what would he do now -- from the grave?

My hope is that Paterno would apologize.

Moreover, I hope his family will soon find the courage to apologize too, rather than follow through with plans for its own investigation of the scandal. I say this with knowledge that most of us instinctively understand how hard it is to stand up for what you believe is right and then to apologize when to do sopits you against the actions of another in your family.

But, what is right is right.

The principles that are at the foundation of a strong reputation have never changed. They will always be the same. These are the ones I believe in:

1. It is all about what you do, not about what you say.

2. It starts with values and how you live them.

3. It takes courage to make the tough call.

4. Believe in doing the right thing. Don't agonize over how tough the decision is or what it may cost.

5. Don't shy away from the tough call, but act quickly.

6. The cover-up is worse than the crime.

7. It never is "if" you'll be found out, but rather "when."

8. When you are wrong, apologize. If moving on is possible, it must start with an apology.

For all of us, any hope for moving on from this tragedy will require remorse from Paterno, through his family, and from those at Penn State who failed in their responsibilities to those children.

Chris Komisarjevsky of Atlantic Beach is a retired chief executive of Burson-Marsteller, a public relations firm, and author of "The Power of Reputation: Strengthen the Asset That Will Make or Break Your Career." He wrote this for newsday.com.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Newsday Opinion on social media

advertisement | advertise on newsday