John P. Surma, Vice President of Penn State's Board of Trustees, announces the firing of President Graham Spanier and football head coach Joe Paterno.

Penn State students and alumni siding with Joe Paterno: you’re wrong.

There aren’t any if, ands, or buts about it. There isn’t a discussion to be had about what could have been done differently. Claiming ignorance of extent is not a valid excuse. Neither is invoking the phrase “hindsight” as a means of deflection.

Joe Paterno was told, and knew, that Jerry Sandusky was abusing a child. Instead of going to the proper authorities to ensure the safety of that child and all of Sandusky’s other victims – which no matter how many have come forward there will likely be others that out of shame and scarring from the activities will opt not to revisit it – he chose instead to quell a fire that might have provided temporary discomfort to the school.

Yet, the worst case scenario would have been that the school would be under a dark cloud temporarily for the actions of one man. It would have been a distraction, but it would have been brief. Instead, Joe Paterno and others at Penn State decided it was best if they swept it under the rug as quickly and quietly as possible.

It was a bad decision from a PR and logistical standpoint, and that alone deserves firing.

But that’s neither here nor there. Because the decision was wrong on a moral and ethical level.

As I’ve written in this space before, sports figures occupy a curious space in our culture. As cynical as it becomes, athletes and coaches are easily lionized. When the reality doesn’t fit the image that has been crafted for them, fans get very upset. They feel betrayed, even if the person in question did not necessarily purport to be the very thing that we find out they weren’t.

Or, as is more often the case, they accuse everyone else of lying.

The facts are the facts, as admitted by Paterno himself to a grand jury and others: he was told Jerry Sandusky was raping a ten-year-old child. And he protected not the victim and future victims, but the offender, by not reporting it to the proper authorities. In other fields of work, and indeed in many primary and secondary schools across the country, Paterno would have been found criminally negligent as a mandated reporter of abuse. That he got away with it was only because Sandusky was craft enough to simply use Penn State as a locale, rather than a means, of securing his prey and executing the heinous acts.

Right now, as I write this, the student body at Penn State is upset because a football coach with a long and storied career was told that what he did was wrong and that he would pay the consequences of not only a bad decision, but one that endangered and ruined the lives and safety of an as yet unknown number of children as young as ten. They are angry, chanting, have set at least two fires and overturned a news truck.

But who can blame them? They are Penn State, where football is more important than anything: truth, safety, property, values, and lives.

It makes me sad to see so many so angry for all the wrong reasons. It’s my hope that “with the benefit of hindsight” they, too, will one day see their error. And to Sandusky’s victims and all victims of sexual abuse for whom their reaction is likely bringing forth some terrible feelings, please note that there are so many more of us out there that aren’t taking the streets, are on your side, and would do the right thing if someone came to us with the same information Joe Paterno had. In fact, for all the coverage the angry students are getting, there are also thousands that are holding a candlelit vigil for the victims of the abuse. Because they, like most other human beings, know that nobody, for any reason, should be allowed to endure such abuse.

Not even for the sake of football.

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4 Responses to Joe Paterno, Penn State, and Priorities

  1. Anonymous says:

    It’s peculiar, though, how people who don’t follow sports are blaming sports for this debacle, which is only slightly improved by Joe Pa’s firing.
    It’s not sports, or religion (see: the sex coverups THERE) or politics. It’s power, and the peculiar notion that ‘we can look the other way because of the rightness of our cause.’ Then everyone sees we have feet of clay.

  2. GenWar says:

    Remember that morals and ethics are relative. While the choices he made might disgust you, it is telling that Joe is under no charges or indictment. He didn’t violate the law.

    I feel bad for Joe. He’s ruined. He’s lost his legacy. He’s a man who worked hard at a job he loved and he enjoyed much success and all that is now crap. Because he made a stupid mistake. I think he got what he deserved and I think justice has been done, in his case, but I still feel bad for him.

    I feel bad for the victims too. I feel bad for anyone who is hurt or abused by someone in a position of power or influence. And, someone who would hurt a child is really not worth the dirt God gathered up to make them with.

    I really think a lot of folks, you included, are assuming that anger and frustration at how this has played out for Joe carries with it a necessary disregard for the horror the victims faced. While I’m sure that that is occurring in some instances, I think it’s the exception, not the rule.

  3. Leigh Cummings says:

    My empathy function must be turned off regarding this guy, because I hear the Penn State alums and enthusiasts mourning the fall of their idol and it just…doesn’t move me. I don’t see someone worthy of their support. I see a pathetic coward.

    Equally pathetic was how Paterno tried to thumb his nose at the powers that be. In his original statement yesterday he said, “At this moment the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status.” It’s like when a kid is in trouble and he says, “OK, I guess I’m grounded for a week, huh?” when his parents were planning on grounding him FOR LIFE. It was a great example of how this guy has walked on water and called his own shots for so long.

    I’m 100% on board with however university/authorities/public sees fit to disgrace him, including the destruction of his reputation and potential criminal charges, although that probably won’t happen. Fuck his legacy.

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