Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Off Topic Tuesday: Penn State and Joe Paterno

Everyone, reading in the States at least, is probably all too familiar with the child molestation case concerning Penn State University and assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. The details are appalling to say the very least of it. I don’t think there is any doubt that this man is guilty and given what he did and how he went about attracting victims (some eight boys over the last fifteen years) I don’t think there is a form of execution excruciating enough to fit his crime. He has been arrested and I have no doubt he will be found guilty and he will be punished (far too leniently in my view) so, what is the problem? For me, the problem is that I would bet more people associate the name of legendary coach Joe Paterno with this case than they do the actual guilty party Jerry Sandusky. I don’t know, and until the trial probably no one will, exactly what Joe Paterno knew and when he knew it but I do know that, in my opinion, the media has been very unfair in their treatment of Joe Paterno, focusing even more on him than the man who actually committed the crimes. Why is that? I have my theories.

Joe Paterno is, in a way, a victim of his own celebrity. Everyone knows him or has at least heard of him and so it is no surprise that his name would be splashed on all the headlines. Even more importantly though, I think is his reputation as being the upstanding, “good guy” of the college football world. This, I think, is partly why we always hear more about “family values” politicians or Christian ministers or priests who do something wrong than we do about others, because the liberal media loves nothing more than tearing down the champions or the symbols of strong, traditional values. Few people realize, for example, that children are far more likely to be molested by a public school employee than by their priest or pastor but (unless the teacher is ‘hot’) you don’t hear much about school employees because the all-powerful government and all of its little minions must be protected in the modern, big-government era we live in. I also think we should not deny that, again due to the media, be it TV, music or movies, we have a frankly sex-crazed culture, even including children (have you seen the “beauty pageants” for children on TV? Porn for pedophiles if you ask me).

Based on what has come out so far, I fail to see why so much blame is being heaped on Joe Paterno. The first person I would take issue with is the grad student who claims to have seen with his own eyes Sandusky raping a 10-year-old in the shower. He reported this to Paterno and that is being seized upon but my question would be why he (and he’s a big guy) didn’t right then go over and beat that nasty old pervert within an inch of his life? He says he told his father and then told Paterno but, realistically, what more was Paterno to do other than alert his own superiors which he did? What other action was he supposed to take? Many say he should have gone to the police, well, the same could be said about the witness, the witness’ father and even if Paterno had gone to the police right then, what was he to tell them? He had no evidence, Sandusky would have surely denied it and so all he had was the word of the grad student. Hardly enough to hang someone with I would think. Now, it must be said, that there has been talk (just talk) about numerous people knowing what Sandusky was up to for a long time and doing nothing about it. I can’t really speak to that because there are no specifics being given. The only specifics I have heard talked about on the news concern the disgusting shower incident.

My concern with all of this, and this is not to detract from the pedophilia crime but relates to how we deal with it in the future (everyone would agree it is reprehensible), is that we seem to be going down a road where people can be ruined by gossip. When you think about it, based only on what is known now, people called for the dismissal and the blackening of Joe Paterno because he didn’t take action based on any evidence produced or anything he himself witnessed but because he didn’t take action based on what someone said that they had seen. It seems in this case it was a fact, but how was Paterno to know that? What if it had not been? How easy would it be to ruin someone with a lie when the police are called in based on rumor rather than evidence or an actual eye witness (because, again, the eye witness didn’t go to police, he went to the coach)? It seems to me we could be going down a road where one rumor, maliciously planted by someone with ill-motives could be used to destroy a good person and it doesn’t even have to concern anything the good person in question did but rather how they responded to the rumor!

Ultimately, this would only work to the benefit of actual child molesters as it would be so easy to just say you heard someone else say that someone had done something to a child that the actual criminals would escape under the flood of false allegations or police burning up man hours chasing down rumors rather than actual evidence or eye witness reports. Are we to all become spies and police informants? I am not trying to downplay this by any means. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not just being dramatic when I say that child molesters and rapists should not just be arrested but should be put to death -and if I had my way, slowly and painfully. I mean that. Anyone who would do such a thing cannot be treated, cannot be cured and cannot be rehabilitated. Destroying them would be doing everyone a favor. What I do object to or what at least concerns me is that someone of good reputation, who did no harm to anyone, can have their name blackened and their reputation which years of good work built destroyed because they didn’t act based on something someone told them with no real evidence just an accusation. Jerry Sandusky is the bad guy here, not Joe Paterno (based on what we know so far it bears repeating) who, as far as I know, did not try to cover anything up but passed on what was told to him to his superiors. I ask again, what more was he supposed to do? Was he to lead the football team in a public lynching based on what a grad-student said that he saw but did nothing himself to stop? Who is more responsible to stop a horrible crime; the witness who saw it or the man who heard that someone else saw it? It just seems unfair to me, at this point, to single out Paterno when, even if the worst is true, he would be only one amongst a number of guilty parties. However, the important thing to remember is that the real villain here is Jerry Sandusky -that is the guy who did the crime, that is the name everyone should remember and that is the man who deserves the worst punishment possible for his heinous crimes.

I will leave with this quote from the leader, in the Italian city of Genoa, of the supposedly harsh Roman Catholic Holy Office of the Inquisition who said on the subject of dealing with the accused, “because the mere fact of incarceration for the crime of heresy brings notable infamy to the person, great prudence must be exercised in the jailing of suspects. Thus it will be necessary to study carefully the nature of the evidence, the quality of the witnesses, and the condition of the accused. Let not our reverence be hasty in proceeding to make an arrest because the mere capture, or even rumor of it, causes serious harm.” Now, considering that the Catholic Inquisitor was speaking of the one accused of heresy, to say nothing of the one who may have heard someone was a heretic but did not make an accusation, that so much emphasis was placed on protecting the good name of people who may have been wrongfully accused, I cannot help but ask; have we become more just since the days of the Inquisition or less so? The narrative of this tragedy at Penn State makes me fear that we have, as a society, become not better but worse than our forebears of the allegedly notorious Holy Inquisition.


  1. I don't typically post on your blog (though I read it a lot) and I hate for this to be one of my first posts, but I just have to say I get a little tired of the defenses of Paterno. Caution is one thing but reckless disregard is something else entirely.

    I'm not really in agreement with the people who say Paterno should have immediately called the police the second he heard McQueary's testimony. But, at the same time, he shouldn't be excused for the fact that it seems he did the absolute, barest minimum to follow up on a credible allegation.

    Paterno, as far as anyone can tell, never really questioned Sandusky about the incident, even though they must have interacted personally and professionally any number of times after the allegation. Paterno never followed up on whether his superiors contacted the proper authorities. He never tried to find out who the boy was. He didn't actively enforce the rule prohibiting Sandusky from bringing other children to Penn State.

    That's not discretion or caution, it's callous apathy. Paterno is getting what he deserves, even if he is being scapegoated to an extent.

  2. In my opinion Joe Paterno should have retired years ago... being the coach was his God and Idol... dangerous place to be...

  3. I agree. However no matter what we think, know or don't know for certain, God will judge them both accordingly, even when we as people cannot.

  4. "Paterno is getting what he deserves, even if he is being scapegoated to an extent."

    That is exactly the attitude that frightens me. The whole, 'yeah, well, he ought to be punished whether he's guilty or not'.

    It's all fine when it's someone else but suppose someone you worked with was accused of doing something terrible and people started to blame you for not doing something about it. Do you know every secret thing, whether it be good or evil about everyone you work with?

  5. Remember though, Sandusky was banned from visiting public schools around State College after the local school district caught wind of these rumors about a decade ago. A few years after that ban was implemented, Paterno stopped allowing Sandusky to bring kids with him to campus.

    There's also the matter of Sandusky having been groomed for years to be Paterno's eventual replacement as head coach, only to abruptly retire at age 55 right around the same time the school access issues cropped up. It all seems a little too convenient if you ask me. It was also around that time that the Penn State trustees tried to offer a retirement deal to Paterno, which was rejected. At the time, the offer was suspected to have been a cost saving attempt, but the timeline seems suspicious in retrospect.

    Granted, Sandusky is the sex criminal here, he's the one that should rot in prison for eternity, and he's the one that deserves to have his picture pasted everywhere with the word "pedophile" under it. There has been way too much media focus on Paterno, who at the very worst, would be guilty of conspiracy or obstruction justice, but that is certainly no where near as terrible as actually touching kids. However, the man is no saint. The circumstances are way too convenient - why would he ban the man from bringing underprivileged children from his charity to football games if he had no reason to suspect any wrongdoing with those children?

    People don't suddenly become pedophiles in middle age, its a persistent sexual disorder. Sandusky has had these feelings probably for his entire adult life and has been surrounding himself with children for the past 35 years.

  6. Legal liabilities, there being no reason for them to be there, there could be a number of reasons. I never said the man was a saint, but I don't know what he knew for certain and neither do you or anyone else. And I said if he is guilty of intentional ignorance he is certainly not the only one and should not be singled out more than any of the others who might have known something was going on. But, he's got the famous name and the reputation for integrity so let's all trash the old guy.

  7. I don't see this as a question of "whether he's guilty or not". I take the Catholic understanding of guilt: one can be complicit in the sin of others. Two of the nine ways of being an accessory to the sin of another are by concealment and by silence. Under those auspices, Paterno is guilty. "Innocent until proven guilty" is a legal principle, not a moral principle. I would be the first to condemn legal charges being brought against Paterno, but he isn't being prosecuted (or persecuted). He's receiving the just desserts of his poor decisions by taking a hit to his own reputation and by the loss of his job.

    He failed to take any action beyond, apparently, one meeting with two people who he knew never bothered to pursue any form of justice. Virtue is the midpoint between two vices. Just because he didn't go overboard in seeking out justice doesn't mean that he didn't commit the equal but opposite vice of failing to act. Sins of omission are as damning as sins of commission.

    And, for what it's worth, if Paterno had had any reason to believe that the allegations were not credible or slanderous, he ought to have been just as zealous in defending Sandusky's character as he ought to have been in defending the boys' dignity. You ask what I would do if someone I worked with was accused of something terrible, and I can say in all sincerity that I wouldn't be able to eat or sleep from anxiety until I knew the accusations were either wrong and put to rest, or right and punished.

  8. And yet you yourself admit that he did not conceal anything nor did he silence anyone. He followed the guidlines of his employer and reported the story that was told to him. You still havn't said what more he should have done. Go to the police? Unlike you, the police don't judge the state of another's soul in terms of moral guilt. All they handle is guilt according to law and heresay is not admissable evidence in any court. Encouraging people to do that would be to invite a huge wave in lawsuits for defamation of character -not everyone accused is as guilty as Sandusky clearly is and those that are not would not take kindly to someone spreading word around their workplace or to the authorities that they are child molesters.

    The man heard a story, he followed the rules and reported that story to his superiors like he was supposed to. Even the attorney for the victims has expressed outrage at the university firing Paterno out of hand as if that solves anything. And you can't get me to believe that he would be treated this way by the media if no one had ever heard of him or if he wasn't known for being a conservative who goes to Church on Sunday. I'm not buying it.

  9. In the end, of course, it's kind of fruitless to discuss all of this: what's done is done, and none of us can change that. I really appreciate your blog and what you do with it so I don't want to turn into the commenter who comes on here and picks a pointless fight with you over a disagreement held in good faith.

    I'm a bit obstinate so I could probably go back and forth on this forever, but I'd rather not be "that guy". Thanks for hearing me out, though.

    Although I am going to defend myself on one point: I did suggest what more Paterno should have done. He should have confronted Sandusky meaningfully. He should have followed up with his superiors to make sure they had actually done something. He should have questioned McQueary more thoroughly about what he saw. By all accounts, he did none of that, and that is what I think amounts to concealment and silence. I never suggested he call the police or continue to spread the slander.

  10. Sorry to belabor this just a tiny bit more, but I think I found a good way of defining where I'm coming from can be compared to the play/movie "Doubt". I don't know if you've seen it, but it deals with how a priest rumored to be sleeping with a boy at his school is investigated by the school's principal and the boy's teacher.

    Sister Aloysius, the principal, takes the position I would take: root out the corruption or shed light on the truth. I think a lot of people have defended the boy's teacher Sr. James' approach: report it to the higher ups and then trust that the situation will be resolved by the "proper authorities".

    Maybe, though, you represent the Mrs. Miller approach (the boy's mother): some of these issues are so morally complicated that it's hard to make a "right" decision. It's a position I can respect even if I feel I can't defend it.

    I highly recommend reading the play if you're not familiar with it. Failing that, watch the movie.

  11. "Confronted Sandusky meaningfully" -how exactly do you confront someone "meaningfully"?

    P: Did you rape a little boy in the shower?
    S: Hell no! How dare you even think that!
    P: No, I *really mean it*. Did you?
    S: Well, if you really mean it then, yes, I did. Let's go to the police station.

    As far as questioning McQueary, he's now changed his story and said he DID go to the police. So, if he's telling the truth (because he didn't say that before -see how murky 'stories' can get) then what more was Paterno supposed to question him on? If the police had been told, there job is to investigate and uphold the law. Again, aside from a public lynching, what more is a private citizen supposed to do about something they heard other than alert the authorities (which he did) and call the police (which Mcquery now says he did immediately)?

    As for the story, who told the Principal? Because Paterno did tell the "Principal" in this case. Why didn't the sister take the rumor to the police first rather than telling the principal? That's what Paterno's being vilified for not doing. I've seen the movie but I don't see much of a comparison. I certainly don't think I'm like the character you mention, who, as I recall, didn't even seem bothered by what her son was allegedly enduring. I would put it like this: don't blame Sister James for going to Sister Aloysius rather than the police or taking matters into her own hands. Blame the priest (if he did anything wrong, it was never really determined to the best of my memory) or blame Sister Aloysius for passing the problem on rather than seeing the priest proven guilty or not guilty.


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