Thursday, November 10, 2011


Joe Paterno’s sixty-plus years at Penn State have come to an end. Like so many long tenures, it ended badly. Paterno, who has long resisted all attempts to retire him, announced he would leave at the end of this season and was not even allowed that, fired by the Board of Trustees last night.

Let us begin with what should be obvious: nothing that has happened, or will happen, to Paterno is in any way comparable to the damage that has been done to the young men molested by former assistant Jerry Sandusky. Assuming he is, in fact, guilty, there is no court with the authority to punish him severely enough. Athletic Director Tim Curley and University Vice President Gary Schultz have also earned their doses of infamy.

The preponderance of public invective has fallen on Paterno. Maybe that is as it should be; he is the leading public figure in this scandal. Still, the level of vitriol is surprising. Is it deserved? Unlike the vast majority of those who have heaped their scorn upon him via the internet today, I have actually read the grand jury report. I know using actual evidence violates the spirit of the web, but let’s give it a try.

Then graduate assistant (now assistant coach) Mike McQuery was in the Lasch Center (which houses the football offices) on a Friday evening to put new sneakers in his locker and pick up tapes for an upcoming game when he heard suspicious sounds coming from the shower. He took a look and saw former defensive coordinator Sandusky sodomizing a boy about ten years old. They saw each other, and everyone left.

McQuery, distraught, calls his father, then goes to his home, where his father tells him he has to tell Paterno. The next morning, McQuery goes to Paterno’s home and does so. Paterno said in his testimony McQuery was visibly upset. Paterno found his story credible enough to call Curley to his home Sunday morning and tell him what McQuery had seen. It also seems clear the language Paterno used was somewhat toned down from the description McQuery had given, though he definitely said Sandusky had been seen doing something of a sexual nature with a young boy. (Paterno at the time was in his mid-seventies. It is not surprising his language would not be as strong.)

Curley then contacted Schultz, under whose authority resided the university police force. They waited a week-and-a-half to speak to McQuery; Paterno was not present. Afterward they notified the police, but were apparently less than forthcoming. The grand jury summary says McQuery was “extremely credible.” Curley and Schultz were both described as “not credible.”

Could Paterno have done more? Absolutely. Should he have done more? Probably. Let’s look at what he did, and not what we’d all like to think we’d do in a similar situation.

McQuery played quarterback at Penn State, and obviously made enough of an impression on Paterno to be offered a graduate assistantship. He is entitled to a certain amount of credence. One Saturday morning, out of the blue, he tells Paterno he saw a man Paterno has worked closely with for over 30 years sodomizing a young boy. If I were Paterno, my first thought would be, “Kid, you’d better be pretty goddamned sure.” Paterno saw the McQuery was visibly upset, so he escalated it to his boss the next day. The grand jury finds no fault with this action.

The leading meme today has been, “Why didn’t Paterno call the police?” Let’s say he does. What does he tell them? “I have a grad student here who says he saw Jerry Sandusky buggering a small child.”

COP: Did you see anything?

JP: No.

COP: Send over the grad student.

They’re done with him. They need eyewitness testimony, and Paterno doesn’t have any.

The next argument I saw on a couple of comment threads was that Paterno should not only have gone to the police, he should have kept after them. These people watch too much television. I’ve made child abuse complaints twice, once when a woman shopping in a store where I worked refused to take her son for a free hospital exam after a nasty fall; the other occurred when child pornography appeared in my email. The police took my statement, got my contact information, and went on their way. They were clear that they’d call me if they needed me, but my role had ended. That’s what would have happened here. Police do not discuss open investigations with civilians. Period.

Another argument against insisting Paterno should have become a crusader for light and right is that State College PA is a small town. Its current population is listed at 39,898. Joe Paterno’s number is in the book. (Probably not anymore, but before this week it had always been.) Someone overhears on the police scanner that JoePa has called for cops, and what is still at that point an unsubstantiated claim is now public knowledge. He’s known Sandusky for a long time. He’s not likely to take the chance of ruining the guy’s life on one other person’s say so. What if it’s nothing? We know it wasn’t now, but Paterno wasn’t there when it happened; he didn’t see anything. He moved it up the chain, as he should have.

Put yourself in his position. You hear a similar story of a friend of thirty years. (For those who aren’t that old, think of a favorite uncle or mentor.) Is calling the police the first thing you do? Hasn’t that kind of relationship has earned the benefit of the doubt? Sure, you do something. Me, I’d urge the person who came to me to go to the police; he actually has evidence for them. If he’s afraid, then, yes, maybe I wander into the police station and make a statement. But maybe not, if I’m so high profile my appearance there–or the appearance of the police at my house–lets the toothpaste out of the tube.

I was then swatted with another argument, that the above statement only helps the guilty. We should go to the police with every such allegation we here. The presumption of innocence will protect against unfounded charges. Does anyone here remember Richard Jewell and the Atlanta Olympics? The Tawana Brawley case? McMartin pre-school? The toothpaste never quite gets put back into the tube, does it?

Maybe the worst thing I read today came from John Scalzi, a science fiction writer for whom I have had great respect. In the comment threads to his post demonizing Paterno, after a commenter said this:

“Meanwhile, all the rage at JoePa has taken the focus off the real monster.”

Scalzi’s reply:

“Alleged monster,” please. We should continue to remember that the alleged monster has yet to have his day in court.

Apparently for Paterno to get a fair hearing in the court of public opinion, he had not sinned enough; he needed to get himself indicted. Then a presumption of innocence would apply.

We all grieve for these children, and for Curley and Schultz to delay in their follow-up and then lie to the authorities is beneath contempt. What is disturbing is the levels of vitriol directed at someone who was not himself directly involved. It is true that all that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing; that does not make them evil themselves, or cowards. It makes them human. Let’s please just tone down this casting of first stones.

The most valuable thing I learned today? How glad I am the readers of John Scalzi’s blog are not my friends.


Charlieopera said...

This is a tough one, brother. I'm purposely putting off posting about it because it seems to grow a bit more every day.

The institutional wall seems to have played a big part in this.

I do shake my head at Paterno's lack of action in this. One of the hundreds of shows last night (I think it was Al (Tawana Brawley) Sharpton himself), mentioned the obvious - how many other people have to have known since McCreary saw what he claims he saw. The entire staff, no doubt; plus everyone they told. The fact Sandusky retires the year after winning Best Assistant Coach award in 1998 suggests he was given a deal by the University; the fact no pro teams picked up the guy at least partially responsible for "linebacker U" is pretty suspicious as well.

Then add the fact McCreary went from grad assistant to paid assistant (for keeping it under wraps?) ...

This one stinks and the entire university (those who knew) have a bigger problem each day something new is exposed. Like I said, I'm still shaking my head at this one.

Dana King said...

We may yet find out Paterno knew more than he says, and was more involved in the cover-up than I have acknowledged here. My concern is with the lynch mob mentality, how quickly people will ignore sixty years of exemplary service even though there is no evidence of Paterno committing a crime, yet will stand by Sandusky's presumption of innocence.

If something else comes out about Paterno, I'll write again, with that in mind. I hope it never comes to that, but if it does, I'll still stand by what I wrote here for condemning a rush to judgment.

Charlieopera said...

how quickly people will ignore sixty years of exemplary service even though there is no evidence of Paterno committing a crime

I hear you, brother ... but the above is an assumption at this point ... that number may well get scaled down to 40 something.

I just read the grand jury report and I have little doubt in my mind the entire coaching staff plus a hell of a lot of law enforcement and probably other college officials knew damn well what they were covering up. The mindset at the time might have been sacrifice for the greater good of the program, but it was a horrendous mistake. This tree is still shaking, brother. I hope to get my thoughts together for something coherent in another day or two at my place but I'm still thinking this is Watergate all over again, except even worse.

Doug List said...

In this case, I think you're being a bit easy on Joe. He should have pushed the administration on this issue. Not just report it and forget about it. Also, I have a hard time buying that he didn't suspect what Sandusky was up to. You can't work with someone that long and that closely without having some insight into their character. Let's not forget that Paterno isn't just a bystander. He's a teacher at a public instituion with an obligation to the students and any child who happens to be in his facility. He needed to press this issue until it was properly resolved. Also, he's not just some employee of Penn State: the man IS Penn State. He's one of the most legendary figures in the history of Pennsylvania, in and out of sports. He could have been governor, or, more importantly, the coach of the Steelers. But, as it seems everyone in corporate and public life is inclined to do these days, he played along with the coverup. -----Doug

Charlieopera said...

But, as it seems everyone in corporate and public life is inclined to do these days, he played along with the coverup.

After several days of watching/reading about this, I think Doug has it; major corporate coverup (so to speak). I will not be surprised to learn that several more people knew about this and long before the 2002 date. I doubt Joe did it for malicious reasons, but he had to completely ignore the kids in this to go along with whatever deals were made (and I'm positive now there were several involving Sandusky and others). It's very sad for Joe, but he's small potatoes in this thing compared to what was going on. He could've done an enormous amount of good (including for his brand) had he made the right choice whenever this stuff came to his door (1994-1998-2002) or whenever.