Paterno and Penn State

Well unless you have your head buried in the college football sand (which, if so, you are not alone. We college football fans are an unusual species) you are well aware of the horrible circumstances befalling the Penn State football program, as well as the entire university establishment and allumni.

And you surely have heard about the conviction of Jerry Sandusky, former assitant coach to Joe Paterno. Sandusky apparently has lived most of his adult life as a pedophile, and used the football program to launch at-risk youth programs… all which provided him with oportunities to recruit potential victims. It is sad beyond words. The negative impact of sexual abuse on a child has obvious never-ending consequences.

Apparently (According to the Freeh report ( which Penn State ultimately endorsed as accurate, Paterno was made aware of instances where Sandusky abused children while he was still Assitant to Paterno. Paterno claimed he brought this to the attention of the University, but not to any legal authorities (which, by law, he has a matter of hours to report).

No question Paterno was in error. No question Paterno was therby complicit in Sandusky’s rougue affairs. No question, there must be serious consequences for actions, incuding possibly removal of his position as head coach, as well as other kinds of penalties for the football program. But what the NCAA eventually brought down on Penn State as punishment is, in the opinion of many, too severe for the actions committed by Paterno. Sandusky left his position under Paterno in 1999. One could argue that all actions after 1999 should not be viewed as happening during that part of Paterno’s career.

Take aways from this whole scenario:

1. The higher you climb in authority / position, the greater responsibility you hold. If you are not absolutely solid in your convictions and standards at the bottom on the ladder, you will not be prepared to hold to the highest standards (like telling a close friend, and assitant coach, that he has 24 hours to report his actions to authorities before you are forced to do, by law) when you get to the top.

2. People place great (unfortunately too much) trust in large, reputable organizations. And for a time, they may turn their head to improprieties in fear of being run over and blacklisted by that organization.

3. The crowd wants to have a lynching. The angrier the crowd, the quicker to judgment. In this case, it is my personal opinion that while there cannot be any punishment too severe to hand down for even one case of child abuse, we need to be sure we are placing the punishment fairly in the appropriate people. The NCAA took away every win the Penn State football team has won since 1998. On the one hand, I get that they want to send a message that sports and winning at all costs is not acceptable. But if it’s a strong message that is wanted, would removing every win Paterno ever achieved be enough? I don’t think so. Many former Penn State football players and alumnists are hurt and offended at why they had to be thrown under the same bus as Sandusky and Paterno. Why did many winning and even championship seasons have to be eliminated to make a strong message about Sandusky when most had nothing to do with Paternos actions?

4. Paterno – I think all would agree that people felt Paterno was one of the greatest coaches, even role models, in the history of college football. Did he really understand the weight of what was going on with Sandusky? Maybe he did. If he did, and chose to ignore it all in favor of winning and his reputation and the reputation of Penn State, then we could maybe agree that taking away as much as possible from Paterno’s legacy is appropriate. If he did not have the information and knowlegde of what was really up with Sandusky, I think he deserves at least some leniancy. The Freeh report says he did know plenty and covered it up. Fair enough.

Paterno died of lung cancer before the Freeh report. His statue was taken down (for now) and most of the penalties from NCAA is meant to be a certain amount of punishment due to the football program; understanding that the actual sentencing from the court will be directed mainly at who it should be – Sandusky.

I have been in private meetings with repsected family members who are forced to deal with a sexual abuse issue with one of their members. It is unbelievably messy to say the least. And many times, otherwise upstanding and righteous people are willing to ignore and even deny that anything is going on or ever went on – more for survival on a psychological level than anything.

In other words, we who are without sin, we can cast the first stone. The rest of us, we should take inventory, and make sure that we have, or can get to that point at which, we would be willing to confront and turn in a close friend who is doing a very, very wrong and damaging thing… Understanding the repercussions for us personally taking a stand could cost us a job, a future, our reptuation, or even perhaps our lives.


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