Raw Deal for Paterno

Ken AshfordRed Sox & Other Sports, Sex Scandals6 Comments

I'm not a Penn State fan; I'm not even a follower of college football.

But as I understand it, after 46 seasons, Penn State college football coach legend (he's a "legend" apparently, although I wouldn't know) Joe Paterno has been removed from his position because he supposedly exercised bad judgment back in 2002.  What happened was, he was told by a graduate assistant coach that Jerry Sandusky (a former assistant coach to Paterno who stilled used the Penn State facilities) sexually assaulted a boy in a school shower.  The graduate assistant coach witnessed the assault.

Paterno reported the incident to Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and Penn State vice president Gary Schultz, who did nothing, and are now under criminal investigation for doing nothing and covering the matter up.

And now, in the wake of a scandal where Sandusky is accused of molesting/raping dozens of boys over several years, the Penn Board of Trustees have removed Paterno.

Why, exactly?  Paterno reported the incident to his higher-ups, whose job it was to take it further to the police.  They didn't.  How is that Paterno's fault?

Sure, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight and knowing NOW what a danger Sandusky was, I'm sure everyone, even Paterno, wishes that that Paterno had "done more".

But at the time, all Paterno was aware of was a single incident, relayed to him as a second-hand account.  He had no independent knowledge of the incident.  He didn't sit on it; he reported it to authorities.  They dropped the ball (negligently or intentionally); not Paterno.  And arguments (mainly from the left) that Paterno is a child-molester "enabler" simply overlook the what Paterno knew to be true as well as when he supposedly "knew" the facts.

Furthermore, it seems to me that the assistant coach who witnessed the rape has some culpability as well — tell me, why isn't that a 911 call?

UPDATE:  Bill in the comments thoughtfully disagrees:

Need to disagree with you on this one. Paterno had a severe moral lapse. What he should have done is reported what he knew to the police and then the university, immediately and in that order – what he should *not* have done is sat by for nine years while nothing happened.

But this is my point.  What Paterno KNEW at that time was nothing much.  Rumor isn't knowledge.  And in fact, the more outlandish the rumor, the less likely someone in Paterno's position is likely to accept it as "factual truth".  What's worse, he could have suffered consequences (including lawsuits) for making what could have been false accusations.  If he had done nothing, I would agree that he was being, at best, negligent.  But he didn't do nothing.

To my mind, the "moral lapse" moniker doesn't apply unless one expects Paterno to have possessed, at that time, 20/20 hindsight, or that he actually witnessed a 10-year-old boy being raped.  In retrospect, he says he wishes he had done more, and I'm sure we all agree.  But his failure not to do more is not, in my view, sanctionable.  This strikes me as a typical situation where peoples' (understandable) outrage over the heinous act is causing them to demonize people — Paterno, specifically — who not culpable of anything truly immoral.

Put another way: if, back in 2002, Curley and Schultz had done what they were supposed to do, namely:

(a) talk to the graduate student to confirm the allegation; and
(b) notify the police and/or district attorney

then this scandal would have erupted in 2002 and 2003.  Would anyone be criticizing Paterno for a "moral lapse" then?  Not likely.  In fact, he would be praised for setting the wheels in motion to bring a horrific molester to justice. 

So why is he being blamed now?