The story which continues to unfold out of Happy Valley is fascinating in its details, and even more so in the various reactions to it, many now verging on hysteria. Yesterday it was called the worst scandal in the history of college athletics and today one reads demands that the Penn State football program be abolished. And Joe Paterno is made to take the blame for all of this, his head demanded on a platter. Tomorrow I expect to read that he should be drawn and quartered, decapitation being too small a price to pay.
Some of these people don’t seem to know relevant facts in the matter. Jerry Sandusky, (a very monster of depravity if the allegations against him of child molestation are true), was employed as defensive coordinator of the Nittany Lions for years before retiring in 1999. As such he was said to be close to Paterno, as one would expect. The incident of child molestation allegedly witnessed in the shower by then graduate assistant, Mike McQueary, occurred in 2002, three years after Sandusky’s association with Paterno and employment at Penn State ended, although, as part of his retirement package he continued to have an office in and access to the athletic complex.
Sandusky’s depredations seem to have been many and serial, but his main vehicle for recruiting alleged victims was his own Second Mile Foundation for wayward youth, and at least in later years, conducted at Clinton County High School, where the initial accuser was a student. So it is not fair to say that his activities were conducted under the auspices of the Penn State football program or on Joe Paterno’s watch. Remember, Sandusky resigned back in 1999.
The 2002 incident was reported, a day after it occurred, to Paterno by McQueary as “inappropriate behavior,” according to Paterno. If this testimony is false, then my apology for the coach is wasted paper and ink, but Paterno’s record is one of the utmost integrity, and McQueary has not contradicted it. And it is likely that he might have reported what he saw in less than its gory detail, which would have raised the question of why he did nothing at the moment.
Paterno, at that point, is faced with a horrible situation, and he has no good options. He wants desperately for the incident to be misunderstood, or groundless. He certainly does not want to confront Sandusky, what with their long personal association. But he has a legal and, certainly, moral obligation to do something. He therefore does what the law requires and reports the incident, (alleged, remember), to his superiors. Many have snidely pointed out that Joe Paterno has (had) no superiors at Penn State, but he was certainly not supposed to act that way, and it wasn’t true in that situation anyhow. Lucky for him that he did have bosses whose job it was to investigate the story and determine whether the authorities should be brought in. They may have conducted a coverup, but that would be on their heads.
Why in the world would Paterno want to usurp their authority, particularly when the accused is not his employee nor associated with the football program anymore? And wouldn’t he have every right to sigh with relief when nothing came of the incident, and he could reasonably assume that there was nothing to it?
Someone said something like, imagine if that boy had been Paterno’s grandson – wouldn’t he have done more then? But, of course, the boy wasn’t, which should be obvious. To suggest that a grandfather should have the same level of concern and regard for all children that he does for his grandchild is just silly. Were it so, no grandfather would be able to drive by a school yard without having a stroke.
It is more reasonable to say that perhaps Paterno had a moral duty to take the issue farther, but it is a complex one, governed by laws which are not crystal clear. Those making loud claims about moral responsibility have no moral authority to make such pronouncements and, in any case, were not there. Paterno complied with the law and his actual responsibility, which I think he has a right to fall back on in a very messy situation.
There is a very heavy whiff of schadenfreude and a mean cynicism hanging over this whole affair, a glee in debunking an iconic figure and a highly regarded, clean football program. Joe Paterno does not deserve to be put under this dog pile.