Joe Paterno Doesn't Deserve Ostracism for the Jerry Sandusky Penn State Scandal

Gary LiContributor IIDecember 8, 2011

Joe Paterno, former head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions. All-time winningest coach in NCAA Division1 football.
Joe Paterno, former head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions. All-time winningest coach in NCAA Division1 football.Rob Carr/Getty Images

In our society, there is a rightfully serious stigma associated with any inappropriate acts directed towards children, and we tend to believe that anyone involved in a situation like the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State is inherently guilty of some legal or moral crime.

Because of this, a lot of people who side with Joe Paterno in this child abuse case are thought to be in some way guilty of crime by association and are treated with contempt.

This is a shame, because anyone that has read the Grand Jury report, should see a completely undeserved ostracism of Joe Paterno's name, his legacy and his character.

Let's take a look at the facts from the Grand Jury report. After Mike McQueary saw Sandusky and Victim 2 in the shower, he reported what he saw to his father, who advised him to talk to Joe Paterno.

McQueary called Paterno, then went to his house and reported that he saw Sandusky "fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to the boy" (these are the words from the Grand Jury report and all we can assume that Paterno heard).

Paterno called Tim Curley, the Penn State Athletic Director and Paterno’s immediate superior, to his home the next day and told Curley what McQueary had reported.

One-and-a-half weeks later, Curley and Gary Schultz (Senior Vice President for Finance and Business) called McQueary into their office, at which point McQueary told them that he saw Sandusky and Victim 2 engaging in "anal sex."

Paterno wasn't part of this meeting and isn't mentioned in the report again. Thus, we must believe that Paterno never heard that Sandusky was engaging in “anal sex.”

Legally, Paterno is not at fault for just reporting the incident to his superiors: The Grand Jury report says that according to Pennsylvania State Law, "the person in charge of the school or institution," upon being informed of suspected child abuse, "has the responsibility and legal obligation to report [the abuse] or cause such a report [of the abuse] to be made by telephone and in writing within 48 hours to the Department of Public Welfare of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania."

Paterno is not "the person in charge of the school or institution" and hence is not legally responsible for reporting the incident to the police.

Morally, the argument against Paterno's actions goes something like this: If you were told that a kid was being forced to engage in non-consensual anal sex in the showers by someone who saw the incident, you have a moral obligation to both report this incident to the police and to ensure that the police deal with the matter.

Anything less means you fail in your role as a prominent member of the Penn State organization, a person of power within the organization in which Sandusky worked and a moral member of society. Hence, you're a terrible human being.

This is the argument most of critics of Paterno point to and one that I think is completely unfair—Paterno made the correct decision and handled the situation as anyone can expect a reasonable human being would.

When Mike McQueary, in his distraught state, reported to Joe Paterno the alleged incident involving Jerry Sandusky, Paterno put aside any personal feelings for his longtime friend and reported the incident to his immediate superiors.

This was the correct decision—the expectation for a reasonable human being in this case is to ignore any personal judgment as to the truth or possibility of alleged child abuse and report the incident to your superior.

Paterno did not hesitate and did not mull over whether to trust McQueary or his longtime friend, Sandusky. He acted as he was expected to act.

Once Paterno reported the incident to Curley, he expected, as any reasonable person would, that his superior would handle the situation appropriately.

Paterno did not have, and should not be expected to have had, any expectation that Curley and Schultz would mishandle the situation.

Neither should Paterno have ever been expected to find out about Curley and Schultz’s ineptitude—Paterno was not a witness to the alleged incident and only transferred McQueary’s words to Curley.

Furthermore, any argument that Paterno should have attempted to carry the investigation further after Sandusky was not arrested is similarly unfair and unfounded.

First, Paterno was never presented any evidence from McQueary. Paterno had a choice to either believe a graduate assistant, of an uncertain relationship to Paterno, or Jerry Sandusky, Paterno’s long time friend and assistant coach, and chose the graduate assistant’s side in the interest of the law.

Paterno did not question the lack of evidence and did not weigh the possibility of McQueary having ulterior motives as a reasonable person might do. Thus, a reasonable person in Paterno’s case, having seen no evidence and having reported the incident to the proper authority, can only be expected to believe then, that with no arrest made, the alleged incident was not found significant enough to warrant such punishment.

Second, Paterno should not have been expected to contact the police or ever be contacted by the police regarding the alleged incident. Since Paterno was not a witness and would have had no new information to report, there would have been no reason for the police to ever divulge information to Paterno regarding any ongoing investigation or amend any existing case files.

Likewise, because Paterno was not a witness. He did not, and should not, have expected the police to contact him about the incident beyond repeating what McQueary had told him. Even in that case, since Paterno had not hidden anything from Curley, Paterno would have been expected to accept any punishment doled by Curley, Schultz, and other authorities involved as the right punishment.

Based on the facts, evidence and allegations presented in the Grand Jury report, it seems to me that Paterno did exactly as he, or any reasonable person in his situation, would be expected to do.

That he was the Penn State football coach shouldn't change that. And to insist that Paterno possibly knew more about Sandusky than he led on in the report is pure conjecture and an improper indictment of the legal system on which our country relies.

I'm not defending anyone who commits the heinous crime of child abuse, denying the severity of punishment deserved by anyone who sexually assaults a child, or suggesting that Sandusky is not guilty, but in a case such as this, it's all too easy to let emotions interfere with an impartial evaluation of the facts.

In the end, Paterno was dismissed as head coach of Penn State football, rightfully or wrongfully, and has endured his punishment with grace. For a man who did nothing legally or morally wrong in the Sandusky case, I think that’s quite enough punishment.

Let’s not subject his name, his legacy and his character to any more petty mud-throwing.


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