Monday, July 16, 2012

A question for Joe Paterno

I must admit I feel betrayed. I probably have no right to, but I feel betrayed nonetheless.

Last fall, when the Jerry Sandusky Scandal at Penn State was getting white hot and the sharks were circling anyone who was seen as helping to cover up the crimes of Sandusky, including Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley, Vice President Gary Schultz, President Graham Spanier and Head Coach Joe Paterno, I wrote a piece called In Defense of Joe Paterno.

The post described my own experience with people who had been accused falsely of child molestation, whose lives had been ruined beyond repair by what in at least one case was a blatant falsehood combined with a zealotry that makes any such accusation a case of guilty until proven innocent. Honest people have to be very careful in dealing with such charges in order to investigate them properly and fully while making certain innocent people are not harmed by false allegations.

While I offered no defense for the actions of Curley or Schultz, who are now facing criminal charges, I did offer some for Joe Paterno (hence, curiously enough, the title In Defense of Joe Paterno). My position was, basically, that he may have been a powerful football coach, but allegations of child molestation were not in his area of expertise. His taking an active role in an investigation of child molestation would be the proverbial bull in the china shop.

And, based on the information available at that time, it looked like Paterno took no active role in the investigation.

It was because of that post that I spent this past weekend reading the Freeh Report. I wanted to see if my giving the benefit of the doubt to Joe Paterno was right. If I was wrong, the only honest thing to do is to not ignore it or sweep it under the rug but to admit it publicly.

For one thing, and this is why I probably have no right to feel betrayed by Joe Paterno, I am not a Penn State grad. Though I have the highest respect for Penn State as an educational institution, I am a proud alum of The Ohio State University. Was raised a Buckeye, will always be a Buckeye. But half my family comes from Pittsburgh, and we always had a healthy respect for Penn State. I was taught and saw that Paterno was worthy of respect and admiration. He didn’t cheat, he encouraged his players to graduate, he punished wrongdoers on his teams, he funded the library and other educational endeavors. The fans at Penn State loved him and he loved them back, and made every effort to repay their love with interest. He was not a sleaze by any stretch of the imagination. He was no Barry Switzer or Jimmie Johnson. He was no Barry Alvarez or Rich Rodriguez or [insert name of almost any SEC coach here]. Paterno was one of the good guys.

Paterno sure does not look like a good guy in the Freeh report.

I am very wary of assigning ulterior or negative motives to people who cannot defend themselves. My own research into the Java Sea campaign has two officers, Dutch Admiral Karel Doorman and British Admiral Sir Tom Phillips, who have been excoriated by historians for their conduct in battle when, at least according to my research, they likely had quite sound and logical reasons for making what ultimately turned out to be disastrous decisions. And, like Doorman and Phillips, Joe Paterno is no longer here to defend himself.

And as everyone knows I’ve worked in government. I’ve worked in bureaucracies. I’ve seen the tendency of government bureaucrats and lawyers to play not to lose, to take the path of least resistance, to take the path of least controversy, of least effort, with little regard for what is right or wrong. And I’ve seen good people who try to buck that trend and do the right thing punished for doing so. All of that is shown in the Freeh Report, in its report of the conduct of Curley, Schultz and Spanier.

But Joe Paterno … I expected better from you. Much better. I was taught you knew right from wrong, and that you always tried to do the right thing. And you seemed to back it up with your actions.

But how was talking Athletic Director Curley out of reporting Sandusky’s conduct to child services in 2001 (Free Report p. 73) the right thing? How was getting Curley to talk Schultz and Spanier out of reporting Sandusky to child services the right thing? Especially after you knew about the allegations of “inappropriate” conduct with a child in 1998?

How was ignoring the child in 2001 the right thing?

We don’t know precisely what you said to Curley in that conversation, and we likely will never know. But the Freeh’s evidence is pretty damning. And even if it’s not totally accurate …

How was, after the allegations in 1998 and 2001, continuing to give Sandusky access to the athletic facilities the right thing?

How was continuing to treat Sandusky until the story broke in 2011 as if nothing had happened the right thing?

I wish you could give me an answer, because I sure as hell can’t come up with any.

I have no wish to join in the piling on a man who had done a lot of good who can no longer defend himself, but how is any of this the right thing?

One final note: I’ve seen reports the NCAA is now getting involved and is sending Penn State a letter to show cause why the football program should not be sanctioned. It’s a difficult question, because some punishment for the university is warranted, but the members of the football team did nothing to warrant any punishment.

My overall position, though, is that there has been enough lying, cheating, hypocrisy and concealment in this scandal already without actually bringing in the NCAA, who have proudly become the masters of lying, cheating, hypocrisy and concealment and have no business passing judgment on anybody. But the NCAA rarely passes up a chance to patronize, pontificate and pat itself on the back. And they will likely not pass up this one.


  1. I read an article describing former President Spanier as one of those hypocritical zealots in the NCAA. What goes around, comes around.

  2. I went to Oklahoma during the era in which Paterno was supposed to be the epitome of civilized coaching and Switzer the backwoods rube. The emphasis put on football in both programs is nuts. We're lucky to graduate half the kids in downtown Indy and we want to shell out more to subsidize the Pacers and professional sports?

    When they dig up our ruins years from now, this is going to be called civilization?