G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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If the response to Ashton Kutcher’s Tweet is any indication at all, my measured sympathy and support for Joe Paterno in the wake of his resignation stemming from his failure to report a child rape incident that took place in 2002 will spark a little bit of pushback. I’m not trying to be bombastic; that’s just the nature of these things.
It’s a difficult case – an all-around tragedy. Former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who retired from Penn State in 1999, has finally been charged with sexual assault after spending at least the past 15 years raping young boys. He allegedly raped eight boys in all operating under the guise of a charitable youth organization that he had founded in 1977. If true, and it seems beyond doubt that it is, Sandusky is an evil man who should sit in a pit darker than dark. He’s stolen innocence and planted seeds of shame, guilt, and anger that nobody should have to face – especially as a consequence of a pervert set on getting his jollies. I’d suggest suicide for Sandusky, but that carries the connotation of “honorable death” – something Sandusky does not deserve.
Unfortunately, it seems that an unfair amount of hatred for Sandusky is spilling over onto Joe Paterno.
Some facts: Sandusky was seen anally raping a 10 year-old boy at Penn State football facilities three years after retiring his post on Paterno’s team. Sandusky had access to Penn State facilities as part of his retirement package and was not representing Paterno in any capacity. Joe Paterno himself didn’t witness the incident which is graphically detailed (page 6 through 9) in Grand Jury testimony and claims that he did not know the specific nature of the sexual improprieties. Whether this was a case of plausible deniability is uncertain.
Mike McQueary, the then graduate assistant and current member of the Nittany Lion coaching staff, walked in on Sandusky raping the 10 year-old boy at Penn State football facilities. McQueary, seemingly in shock after witnessing the act, called his father. The father advised his son to come to his house where the two decided to tell Coach Paterno about the incident the next day.
From the grand jury report:
Joseph V. Paterno testified to receiving the graduate assistant’s report at his home on a Saturday morning. Paterno testified that the graduate assistant was very upset. Paterno called Tim Curley (“Curley”), Penn State Athletic Director and Paterno’s immediate superior, to his home the very next day, a Sunday, and reported to him that the graduate assistant had seen Jerry Sandusky in the Lasch Building showers fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy.
A week and a half later, McQueary, without Paterno, met with the AD and a Vice President for the school who, two weeks after the meeting, informed McQueary that they had taken Sandusky’s locker keys and reported the incident to his charity. McQueary was never questioned by any police authority on the matter, and the AD and Vice President now face perjury charges.
But where does Paterno stand in all of this? That is the big question.
The argument my girlfriend made (and which I see Ulysses is arguing too), and which is somewhat convincing, is that a football coach assumes the position at the very top of the football hiearchy. As such, McQueary and his dad immediately decided to call, not the cops or even the Athletic Director, but Coach. As Coach, Joe Paterno is God to the men who revere him. He carries their burden and their glory. Coaches, the good ones, are showered with praise reserved for deities. But Paterno obviously didn’t see himself that way which is what has ultimately led to his resignation.
There is legal responsibility, which few are arguing applied to Paterno, and then there are the deeper questions about duty, morality, and social responsibility. Joe Paterno may have been the de facto top dog on Penn State’s campus, but he was also a second-hand witness to a crime which he may not have fully grasped the seriousness of. Would it have been nice if Joe Paterno went straight to the police to report what he heard from McQueary? Undoubtedly. Would it have been better if McQueary had done the same, immediately? Yes.
McQueary was the witness to the rape. His word would have been the only one that mattered. The timeline is being reported as “Joe Paterno failed to report the rape of young boy” when what actually happened is that Paterno didn’t tell McQueary to inform the police about what he had seen and didn’t follow up as readily as he might have. Instead, Paterno decided to report to his superiors who, according to the Grand Jury report, held the ultimate responsibility in these types of abuse cases. And unfortunately, by the time the case made its way through the chain of command, everyone thought that someone else had done their part to address the situation. Bureaucratic red tape of the worst variety.
The sympathy for Paterno, which many are getting slapped in the mouth for expressing, is that he was thrown into a situation he had no hand in creating. Something that he didn’t do landed on his doorstep, and he is now suffering the consequences for it. It is all a tragedy, first by a million miles for the victims, but also for Penn State and Joe Paterno.