Doing just enough just isn’t enoughBottom Highlights, Politically Aware Friday, November 25th, 2011
Commentary: Politically Aware
In Erie, Pa., everyone roots for two teams on a college football Saturday: Notre Dame and whoever is playing Penn State, or Penn State and whoever is playing Notre Dame. Having spent a summer in University Park during high school, I chose the latter.
Through medical school and graduate school, I went to the Penn State bar for games, and still watch them when I can. Oct. 30, when Nittany Lions’ head coach Joe Paterno became the winningest coach in Division I history, I put the following on Facebook:
An ugly game, but congrats to JoePa on record win No. 409. Fantastic, but not as impressive as his graduation rate and being one of the only coaches to put his name on the LIBRARY, not the stadium. Go Joe!
Needless to say, I was taken aback by the allegations against former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky. For my friends who reply “Sports, Joel, really?” allow me to recap. In 1969, Sandusky was hired as the Nittany Lions’ defensive line coach. In 1977, he founded The Second Mile, a charity to help underprivileged boys. He retired in 1999, having risen to the rank of defensive coordinator and been considered a possible successor to Paterno, if he ever retired.
Nov. 5, 2011, Sandusky was arrested on 40 criminal counts involving inappropriate contact, behavior and sex with young boys. The allegations begin with meeting boys through The Second Mile in the mid ‘90s, and continue with interactions even after his retirement, including in the Penn State locker room. If the allegations are true, there should probably be a special level of hell for Sandusky, but that’s not the reason the story has made national headlines. The subject of speculation, but not investigation, is Joe Paterno himself.
Paterno was not indicted and the Pennsylvania attorney general has said he is not a target of the investigation. He is, however, the target of most speculation. It was revealed that in 2002, a graduate assistant witnessed Sandusky in an incident in the shower room that he reported to Paterno. Paterno, in turn, reported the incident to his superiors (who have been indicted on perjury charges), and told a grand jury that the “distraught” assistant did not give him the details of the “incident”, which is alleged to have been anal intercourse.
When I first heard all this, I wanted to believe JoePa had done the right thing. And legally, it appears he had. He told his superiors, who should have informed other appropriate parties. The county DA chose not to file charges, and, in the oddest part of the case, disappeared from the planet in 2005. Sandusky lost his keys to the locker room. (Oh, the humanity!)
The attorney general is not indicting Paterno, but much of the press is, suggesting he didn’t live up to the moral standards he claims to model at Penn State. Some think Paterno should have gone to the police himself. Given reports that members of the police force had heard Sandusky confess, it’s not clear to me what Paterno would have added. Others suggest that he should have gone public. I’m not sure that is fair to Paterno. Most people would have a hard time going public with one allegation against a 30-year history with a colleague, particularly if they had discussed slander and defamation of character with human resources. If Paterno were a normal guy, I could probably stand by him, understanding the difficulty in untangling a true desire to protect children from abuse, belief in a friend and a legal morass.
Unfortunately for my opinion of JoePa, he is no mere mortal in Happy Valley. He is the Godfather, and he knows how to play the game, as evidenced by the fact that even now, none of his superiors seem to be able to fire him. Joe could have taken Sandusky into his office and paraphrased Michael Corleone demoting Tom Hagan: “You’re out, [Jerry] …That’s no reflection on [you], it’s just the way I want it.” Out of Penn State. Out of The Second Mile (“Is my credit good enough to buy you out?”) Out of luck if you ever look at a boy too long. Because I’m Joe Paterno, and you don’t go against the Penn State family.
Maybe it wouldn’t have been enough, but it would have been more than leaving the fate of an alleged molester, and his future victims, in the hands of people with less power. Paterno once said, “You have to perform at a consistently higher level than others. That’s the mark of a true professional.” Maybe he did until 2002. And maybe he could be allowed to finish the season, out of respect for those first 36 years as head coach. But if he can’t protect boys not even old enough to join his team, he needs to retire, before it’s more than 10 years, and more victims, too late.
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