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John Thompson: Joe Paterno Is ‘A Damn Good Man’

In his career as coach of Georgetown, John Thompson was as big with his words as he was in his convictions, in success and in size. At 70, Thompson remains vocal. On ESPN 980 radio station, the long-retired coach sounded eerily like he brushed off  the late Joe Paterno’s coverup of the Jerry Sandusky child rape case as a “mistake,” calling Paterno more than once “a damn good man.”

Here’s an excerpt of Thompson’s comments:

“Well, it’s really a very pitiful situation, and it’s hard for anybody to describe it without wondering why the youngsters were left vulnerable to that sick man [Jerry Sandusky]. That’s the thing that puzzles me more than anything, is not the initial thing that he did, but why he was tolerated for such a long long time — to be able to stay in that environment, and to leave kids vulnerable to him, and the access that he had.

“I can’t tell you [how] that [happened]. I can’t hear anything that makes me see the justification of that.

“But when I look at the thing with Joe, I know a lot of terrible people — terrible people — who I have relationships with. And I probably like ‘em to some extent. But if they do one good thing, I don’t then say that they’re a good person, if I know the dishonest things that they’re doing.

“So when you’ve got a good man who’s done a hell of a lot of good, and he does something that he maybe would be sorry about, I can’t begin to define him as being a bad person, because he made a mistake or he misjudged what he should have done. Just as I won’t say that the bad person is good because he does a good thing.

“We create false gods in our lives. Joe is not a god. John [Wooden] is not a god, [Coach] K is not a god, [Vince] Lombardi is not a god. He’s a human being that has human frailties, and they make mistakes, ok? But we need gods in our lives, and we tend to attribute that only — only — to sport….

“I feel bad for Joe, because I think he was a damn good man. I think he made a mistake. Probably he would say a terrible mistake. But if Jesse James robbed a hundred thousand banks and gave a little bit of money to the poor, I’m not gonna say he’s a good man. Nor in hell am I gonna say that Joe is the worst person that ever lived because he made a mistake.

“He’s not a god. We put people in god-like positions, and then they become incarcerated by their reputations. And then when they become incarcerated by their reputations, we exploit that. We exploit that. Because we need to say that if you win so many games, if you won so many championships, you’re better than everybody else.

“And when that person makes the human mistake with the human frailty, we jump up and say, ‘Oh, we worshipped them too much.’ We worship everybody too much. That’s the society that we live in. We gear ourselves toward money. I do. Everybody else does….

“But I don’t know the answer to it. I don’t know the answer to it. We have created false gods in sport….It was a mistake being made by a damn good man, and that doesn’t make him a criminal. That means he made a mistake.”

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