Thursday, July 26, 2012

Should we stand up for Joe Paterno?

With all the talk about Penn State University in the past year, it's clear that everyone has an opinion on this issue. Regarding who should take the blame for the abuse and for the scandal, people are divided into two camps: the "THE ENTIRE COLLEGE IS CORRUPT!" camp, and the "PSU is great, but Sandusky is evil" camp.

There's no camp that stands behind Sandusky, fortunately. But we are seeing gray areas: some people say a handful of higher-ups from PSU are also to blame (and they are), some say even Joe Paterno is very much personally responsible for not doing his part to report and prevent future crimes.

Through all of this media attention, somehow Joe Paterno has become the scapegoat for Graham Spanier, Tim Curley, Gary Schultz, the Board of Trustees and Governor Tom Corbett. He is the one that people argue about.

Is it right for us as the American public to be upset with Joe Paterno?

He was revered in central Pennsylvania and in college football in general. I know this very particularly because I grew up in the shadow of Penn State, in a tiny town called Coalport, Pennsylvania which is tucked into a valley about an hour away from State college. Everyone loved Penn State football, and everyone knew who Joe Paterno was. I cried watching THON and I gave money to the people bouncing basketballs at Altoona intersections during PSU's Bounce Marathon.

One of my favorite family traditions was watching the fireworks right across the street from the Bryce Jordan Center every year on July 4th. I even have a photo of myself from a few years ago with the recently-removed Paterno statue at Penn State - I'm hugging what I thought was his waist but what turned out to appear to be a crotch-groping due to the height of the statue:

My original facebook caption, from July 2008:
"As I wrapped my left arm around his waist, I assumed my right hand was on his manly abs.
Instead, it was on his man-berries. Sorry, Mr. Paterno. (Sorry, Mrs. Paterno!)"

I know what it's like to worship the institute of Penn State because I too worshiped at the alter of PSU.

Nobody likes to see their idol fall, but if someone is in a high position of power (and make no mistake, Joe Paterno had power), they need to be held accountable.

It seems that some of the people being hit the hardest with this molestation scandal are parents. I am a mom who takes my role of parenting very seriously. I analyze everything at an attempt to see what message it's sending to my child. I have her believing that water heals most ailments such as headaches and tummy aches (and it does!) and she is excited about reading because I am an avid reader. When someone treats me badly in front of her, I stand up for myself so she learns to do the same, hopefully with a little grace.

Despite or maybe because of the atrocities committed against my family members when we were children, I am firm in my belief that it is every adult's role to care for the children of their community. I do believe that "it takes a village to raise a child." If you see a child mistreating another, stop them. If you see a child with bruises and fear of their parent, talk to the authorities to have it taken care of.

When something like a child molestation scandal hits headlines, some people put all fault on the molester, saying that he is the only one at fault for his actions. But this is inaccurate thinking. A child's safety is the responsibility of everyone who comes in contact with a child. You wouldn't walk away if you saw a toddler walking alone down a city street. Why would you walk away if you suspected an adult - and one of power, at that - was doing something inappropriate with to a child?

A child molester obviously shouldn't be the only one being held responsible for a child's welfare. There need to be checks and balances in any community. Even as a mom who tries my hardest (most days), I need my daughter's dad to step in and keep me in check when I'm too tired or too lazy or too upset to edit the bad message I'm sending to my daughter. And in the case of molestations and child abuse, in every situation, I believe we should hold every adult responsible for watching for something out of the ordinary, then speaking up to the correct people until the situation is resolved.

I recently came across this article, "My Message to the Penn State Community and the Ignorants", which was written by a PSU student who clearly adores the college. While I'll admit the article is well-written, it simply reeks of unadulterated PSU-worship.

The worst thing about this pathos-laden article is that the author possesses an awareness of the situation that blatantly says "I know this person or this group did something REALLY BAD but they also did other things that were REALLY GOOD so the REALLY BAD things aren't as big of a deal." Case in point, a quote from the article: "He may not have practiced what he preached at all times, but he still preached it and in turn made this university what it is today."

I'll admit, some of us may be going too far by saying "Screw JoePa!!" and "PSU should be punished more harshly," ... after all, if we write off JoePa for making one mistake despite years of good within his community, doesn't that mean we should write off EVERY PERSON who ever made a bad choice? That would be everyone. We would effectively be dismissing every person who did good things simply because they also did bad things.

However, this article is using the argument that JoePa did good things for the community. Quote:
"Penn Staters support Joe Paterno because he made this school into what it is. He built numerous academic buildings, funded academic programs, supported students maintaining a close relationship with their religion on campus and taught us what success with honor truly means. He may not have practiced what he preached at all times, but he still preached it and in turn made this university what it is today."],

If that is the case - if we are going to defend Paterno by point out the good things he did for the community - then we must also show the things that he did that were detrimental to the community as well. As you can see in an article which summarizes the trial (found here),
"Some of the most damning evidence against Paterno consists of handwritten notes and emails that portray him as deeply involved in that decision. According to the report, Spanier, Schultz and Curley drew up an "action plan" that called for reporting Sandusky to the state Department of Public Welfare. But Curley later said in an email that he changed his mind about the plan "after giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe." Instead, Curley proposed to offer Sandusky "professional help."
The article further goes on to state the excuses given by Paterno and other higher-ups:
Paterno and the others gave various explanations for their decision, saying among other things that they misunderstood the allegations, that they did the best they could and that this was the "humane" way to handle the matter.
I know I may sound like I'm digging in my heels when I say this, but I don't care if they didn't fully understand the allegations. I don't care if they thought they were making a good choice by not going further with their reporting. Whether or not they should press the reporting of the abuse was not their decision to make.

It's your legal and ethical responsibility to report suspected child abuse at the time that it is suspected.
How do I know this? I go to the law. I came into contact with this law as a child care worker in Pennsylvania. When you work with children, you are trained about something called "mandated reporting." If you suspect child abuse, you are required to report it to your superior, who is then required to report it up the line until it reaches the proper authorities, who will then investigate the matter and take it to child welfare authorities/the police/the courts et cetera if necessary. Joe Paterno didn't directly work with children, but he was the superior of someone who did. And that's where the chain of command broke. Was this Joe Paterno's job to report it? See the Pennsylvania law regarding mandated reporting:
"...any persons required to report suspected child abuse who, in the course of their employment, occupation or practice of their profession, come into contact with children shall report or cause a report to be made to the Department of Public Welfare when they have reasonable cause to suspect on the basis of their professional or other training or experience, that a child coming before them in their professional or official capacity is a victim of child abuse.
There should be no doubt that PSU is an excellent school. They are renowned for their excellent programs in various fields - I've heard a ton of wonderful things about their education majors and their agricultural developments over the years, among many other developments. Anyone who graduates or graduated from this institution holds an excellent, worthy degree.

But as these Sandusky trials have proven, this college's power players had a flawed system of treating football players and their coaches with exception and that's simply a bad thing - it resulted in the loss of innocence for handfuls of young children.

I watched an entire community excommunicate my friend when she turned in her sexual abuser. I watched them stand behind the preacher who kept it a secret when the abuser confessed because "the preacher was a great man." I watched them tell her that she wasn't a Christian because she didn't just forgive her abuser because he claims to be a Christian and says that "God already forgave him."

I hate to be the one to break this to you, everyone, but anyone who stands behind someone who helped to stop punishment of an abuser is party to the abuse themselves. 

If we are going to revere Joe Paterno for the great things he did, we must balance this with an awareness of the bad things he did. The bad thing he did was to not take an active role in protecting those children. His reasons for not doing more are irrelevant.

 “It's the action, not the fruit of the action, that's important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there will be any fruit. But that doesn't mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”-Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

What makes a great man? What makes a great majority group? What makes a great society?

"The majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses its strength, and by acting on the law of the strongest breaks up the foundations of society."-Thomas Jefferson

I believe that Joe Paterno forfeited the right to be thought of as a great man of strong character when his true character came out: he has the character of one whose heart wasn't broken for those children. If his heart had been broken for those kids, he would've done everything to protect them the very second that a suspicion was raised. He did not.
Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing. - Abraham Lincoln


  1. Beautifully written article, amazing response to the POS article that PSU student wrote. Thank you.

  2. Thank YOU so much for your response. I genuinely appreciate it!

  3. Admittedly, I am not a Penn State fan. I'm a Pitt fan, and that means that while Penn Staters worshiped at the alter of Joe Paterno, we Pitt fans chanted things like, "Penn State Sucks!" which we firmly believed, regardless of the fact that we hadn't played them in many, many moons.

    That being said, I understand that how hard it must be to reconcile a new version of a man everyone thought was a good, morally decent man. I don't hate Joe Paterno, not now, and not before, but I don't think he's a good man. I don't think good men stand by and do nothing. He might have done good things, but as you said, those good things do not outweigh the fact that he lied, he covered for a child molester, and he let his legacy and his football team be more important than anything, or anyone else.

    I followed this link after reading the first article in defense of Penn State. I can tell she is passionate, and well spoken, but wrong. I knew she was wrong as soon as she said that it was the "Sandusky Scandal" and not the "Penn State Scandal." Sorry. He was using Penn State facilities. It's a Penn State scandal. And maybe Joe is getting the brunt of the blame because he is the most public face, but notoriety has its perks, and it has its flaws. I think that Penn Staters need to stop talking about how they have candlelight vigils for the victims, as if that means anything. I think they need to admit that a colossal mistake was made, and that it was partly due to the fact that Joe Paterno and his football cronies were not accountable to anyone. I think they need to be humble and accept their punishment, and realize that in the long list of victims in this situation, they are no where near the top.

    You are absolutely right. They were all responsible for those kids. And they all failed them. Every last one of them, including Joe Paterno. And your point about not caring if they didn't know exactly what was going on? Amen, sister. If he really tried to tell his superiors (which, please, who was more superior than Joe Paterno on that campus?), and nothing came of it, then he should have tried again. He should have tried louder. He should have tried until his throat was raw. He owed it to those kids. They all owed it to those kids.

    Your post was, as the person above me said, beautifully written. An excellent, far more rational response than the first article. I just keep thinking of the Edmund Burke quote: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

  4. Thanks, Lisa. I absolutely agree on your points as well - it ABSOLUTELY IS a PSU scandal, not a Sandusky scandal.

    And THANK YOU for that quote by Edmund Burke! I was trying to find it for awhile but couldn't remember the wording to google it with results. THAT is point of this argument - good men did nothing, therefore bad things happened. Inaction is sometimes just as bad as action.

    Fortunately our nation is angry and rallying (some of us, at least) and being aware that we, too, can stand up for these kids.