Paterno, Spanier, Shultz, and Curley: They Were Who We Thought They Were

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Paterno, Spanier, Shultz, and Curley: They Were Who We Thought They Were
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Fallen Idol

For all the Penn State and Joe Paterno apologists, there is no way to deny the facts. Prior to the release of Penn State's internal investigation undertaken by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, living in denial was possible, but no longer. The report was clear and unequivocal: Joe Paterno and high-ranking university officials did far worse than nothing, they took part in a cover up of crimes against the most defenseless of victims.

There is plenty of blame to go around, and picking apart who deserves what percentage of the blame is senseless and irresponsible. Former Nittany Lion, Matt Millen, has already tried to spin the report in favor of his former coach by saying that the ultimate blame lays with the university president because he was Paterno's boss. Millen's comments reek of parochialism and hero worship--the kind that allowed this sort of cover up to occur in the first place.

Joe Pa was the big man on campus and threw his weight around to protect his long time friend and assistant Jerry Sandusky. One of the administrators, or Mike McQueary even, could have acted responsibly and gone to the state police or child protective services on their own without Paterno signing off. But why bother giving anyone a pass when they all had the moral responsibility to make every effort to stop Sandusky on their own?

Originally, I thought that McQueary, Paterno & Co. were the human embodiment of Hannah Arendt's banality of evil. That is, Paterno & Co., as well as McQueary, followed the chain of command and proper administrative procedure. This would have put them on morally dubious ground, as they didn't use everything within their being to stop an evil act, but they also wouldn't have taken positive action in favor of evil either. This would have absolved them of legal responsibility and permitted them to sleep well at night thinking they did all they should have done, but it would not have been the morally preferable path. Now things appear much worse. According to the report, "After Curley consulted with Mr. Paterno, however, they changed the plan and decided not to make a report to the authorities." The report continues, saying that, "it is more reasonable to conclude that, in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at Penn State University...repeatedly concealed critical facts." If this report is to be believed, then Paterno & Co. are guilty of much worse than the banality of evil. They were facilitators and protectors of evil in a very conscious way.

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Paterno & Co., and their defenders, have consistently fallen back on the claim that they had to take time to figure out what to do and consulted with those who should have known better. This same excuse was used to explain away the weak effort of McQueary who fled the shower scene without intervening and then called his father for advice. To quote from the Freeh Report press conference, "Why would anyone have to figure out what had to be done in these circumstances?" The implication being that it is common sense: you use all of your power to stop Sandusky regardless of your position or rank in the university or community.

The Freeh Report continues along these lines to show that no one put the welfare of the victims beyond concern for their own welfare or the welfare of the program.

There are several reasons that no one involved took the moral high ground and why Penn State's Board did not have proper oversight authority, but the bottom line is, as long as winning and prestige are the most important goals for an individual or an institution, morality will necessarily take a back seat. This was the central thesis of my previous article on this topic. Penn State supporters and Joe Pa apologists were aghast that I would sully the name of their coach and school by suggesting that he or the university did anything less than what was both procedurally proper and morally defensible. So now it is time for all those who defended Joe Pa, allowing their judgment to be clouded by hero-worship, to come out from under the fog and admit that Joe Pa, in this episode, acted badly. Anything less will place them in a morally dubious position. The idolization of Joe Paterno in the university and surrounding community is what allowed him to tell his bosses not to go any further with their report on Sandusky. They knew that Joe Pa would win any PR battle because of the loyalty of his fans.

If fans continue to idolize coaches, then coaches will continue to get away with acting badly. There is no place for hero worship among adults for it is their responsibility to be ruled by their reason rather than their passions.

As hard as it is to admit when we are wrong and to see our heros' flaws, the time has now come to do so in this case.

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