Skip to content

Former Georgetown coach John Thompson ‘feel[s] bad’ for Joe Paterno, calls him a ‘damn good man’

Jul 19, 2012, 12:02 PM EDT

John Thompson

Sometimes the best thing to say in a situation that doesn’t directly affect oneself is “no comment.”

John Thompson, the legendary former coach of the Georgetown Hoyas, was the latest to weigh in on the Joe Paterno/Jerry Sandusky situation at Penn State, and he might have done himself more harm than good.

It’s a customary exercise for radio shows to feature prominent sports figures to talk about stories that they could somehow, analogously, give a perspective on. In this case, it was ESPN 980 in Washington D.C. and Thompson on Wednesday.

Taken out of context, Thompson calling Paterno a “damn good man,” and saying that Paterno “made a mistake” and Thompson “feels bad” for him makes Thompson seem like a Paterno defender, something few want to be in the face of all the evidence of Paterno’s role in the events that took place at Penn State.

Taken with some context, the situation isn’t made a whole lot better, but it now becomes clearer that, through the radio medium, as Matt Norlander of CBSSports.com points out, the point Thompson was trying to make was lost.

Here is the bulk of the text:

“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.

When talking about such an important subject with these types of wide-ranging implications that go beyond sports to teach us about public image, chains of command, and the core of human ethical behavior, if a commentary is to be made, it needs to be made precisely and in a way that does not allow for other interpretations.

That means radio may not have been the place to do it and, if the situation called for it, to use that “no comment” card if necessary.

The tide of public opinion has turned and the case for defending the actions of the administration at Penn State not to protect children affected by Jerry Sandusky is nearly impossible to make. To say you “feel bad” for a man who played a role in not stopping the events that took place at Penn State disregards the emotions of those truly hurt and deserving of comfort in this: Sandusky’s victims.

At its very root, it feels like Thompson is trying to make a point about the ills of such worship of idols as we saw at Penn State, but small clips that hint at an attempt to defend him will ultimately be what is remembered from his interview.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Latest Posts
  1. Syracuse center Dajuan Coleman: ‘I feel like I’m ready to play’

    Jul 3, 2015, 9:19 PM EDT

    AP AP

    The redshirt junior has not played since January 2014.

  2. Louisiana Tech reduces transfer restrictions for Xavian Stapleton

    Jul 3, 2015, 7:30 PM EDT

    AP AP

    The rising sophomore was originally being blocked from transferring to 55 schools.

  3. Ohio State lands center Kaleb Wesson, first commit in 2017

    Jul 3, 2015, 6:08 PM EDT

    Thad Matta AP

    Ohio State begins its 2017 class with a local product.

  4. Report: Oregon point guard Ahmaad Rorie to transfer

    Jul 3, 2015, 3:03 PM EDT

    Ahmaad Rorie, Brandon Chauca AP

    Given Oregon’s many perimeter options, minutes were likely to be at a premium for Rorie in 2015-16.

  5. Re-ranking the recruiting classes: Who are the 25 best players in the Class of 2008?

    Jul 3, 2015, 2:10 PM EDT

    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - APRIL 05:  Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers celebrates in the game against the Miami Heat at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on April 5, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Tonight is his first game this season .  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) Getty Images

    A lot of unranked players made their way into the top five in a surprisingly deep class.

  6. United States U19 team advances to semifinals of FIBA U19 World Championships

    Jul 3, 2015, 1:40 PM EDT

    Jalen Brunson AP

    Jalen Brunson led four Americans in double figures with 17 points.

  7. Former St. John’s center visiting Minnesota this weekend

    Jul 3, 2015, 11:30 AM EDT

    Chris Obekpa AP

    Minnesota is one of four schools the 6-foot-10 center is reportedly considering.

  8. Four-star point guard Alterique Gilbert to announce college decision Saturday

    Jul 3, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT

    Nike Elite Youth Basketball League Getty Images

    The lone school to host the Georgia native on an official visit is considered to be the favorite in this recruiting race.

  9. Oregon releases non-conference schedule that includes four NCAA tournament teams

    Jul 2, 2015, 7:40 PM EDT

    Dana Altman AP

    Oregon still has a date to fill (December 29), which the school expects to be filled by an in-state opponent.

  10. MAAC announces change to conference tournament format

    Jul 2, 2015, 5:50 PM EDT

    Hampton v Manhattan Getty Images

    Nine programs voted for the change, with Manhattan voting against it and Quinnipiac abstaining.

  11. Re-ranking the recruiting classes: Who are the 25 best players in the Class of 2007?

    Jul 2, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT

    AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps

    The Class of 2007 produced some very good players, including one who’s an NBA MVP and others who have developed into perennial all-stars.

  12. Tennessee unveils new Nike jersey designs (PHOTOS)

    Jul 2, 2015, 2:53 PM EDT

    UTSports.com UTSports.com

    I’m a big fan of these, particularly the dark grey ones.

  13. Cal lost two commitments, including a top 75 recruit, on Wednesday

    Jul 2, 2015, 9:27 AM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    The Golden Bears should still be alright this season.

  14. Former California commit headed to Oklahoma State

    Jul 1, 2015, 10:05 PM EDT

    Travis Ford Travis Ford

    Dillard becomes Oklahoma State’s fourth addition to the program.