Joe Paterno and the Act that Dare Not Speak Its Name
By Bernie Reeves
The Penn State scandal has several dimensions beyond the disgusting alleged outrages by former defensive coach Jerry Sandusky. The most newsworthy item to the average person so far has been the termination of football coach Joe Paterno at age 85, who broke the NCAA Division 1 record for most wins in his last game for the Nittany Lions the Saturday before the story broke.
Paterno is accused of not following up on a report he received in 2002 that Sandusky was observed having sex with a male adolescent in the football team's locker room. Paterno did pass on the information to members of the athletic department but, according to investigators, did not act more aggressively to pursue the matter. Paterno is not listed as a criminal suspect in the case, but his fabled career received the death sentence. Now the outrage over Sandusky's crimes has created additional fallout, contaminating all who were involved. But what was going on in Paterno's mind that caused him not to track down and expose Sandusky?
Back when my boys were young, a single, mid-20s, hale fellow, well-met, dedicated himself to youth sports. He coached city-league and YMCA sports teams and displayed a great interest in kids a father could not replicate while maintaining a career and a family. The young "coach," and the others like him, set an example of involvement perceived as a paragon of parenting.
One Friday afternoon, my son said he had been invited with four or five other kids his age to spend the night with their coach and mentor. The plan was to go bowling and return to the coach's home to watch movies. I said no. My son exploded with anger and hurt feelings. He reeled off four close friends who were going, sputtering with outrage that if his pals could go, why couldn't he? He would be stuck at home while his compatriots were having a great time -- and making friends with an older person who treated them as equals. I stood my ground, but I could not find the words to explain exactly why to my son.
Thinking back, there were reasons beyond my reluctance to label the youth coach a potential pedophile, an opinion I held but could not prove. I was fearful to explain just what sexual predators actually did. My son and I hadn't even discussed the birds and the bees, much less homoerotic acts that were beyond my ability to dwell on even briefly. I did not want to imply that all youth sports coaches preyed on children. And I feared the uncomfortable process involved that would require that I prove my suspicions. I knew the coach's behavior was suspect, and I wanted to protect my son. But that's as far I could go.
But even if I had attempted to explain my fear and stain the reputation of the young coach, my son would not be able to restrain himself from telling everyone the explosive news. I would then be in the position of defending my comments, which in turn would unleash a firestorm drawing in hundreds of people. The coach would sue, demanding proof. The media would naturally become interested, and the accusation would go viral. I would be mobbed by media wanting to know how I knew this about the coach. And if I were wrong, the potential for defamation damages against me would be ruinous. The drama would never die.
Joe Paterno dealt with the same issues, even though graduate assistant Mike McQueary (who since moved up to assistant coach until he was suspended last week) offered an eyewitness report back in 2002. To his credit, Joepa reported the incident to officials in PSU's athletic department. But his termination is reportedly based on his inaction from that point forward. What should he have done to save him from ignominy at the end of one of the greatest careers in American sports? Should he have confronted Sandusky and accused him of serial pederasty? Contacted the athletic director and demanded action? That's easy to say in retrospect but, based on the unmentionable nature of the crimes, a very difficult thing to say out loud. Read more at...
You protected your son twice, in some sense--one, by not allowing him into a possible occassion of victimization and, two, by not intoducing him to the hard realities of the world too soon when their mere description would've likely broken his illusions about life and traumatised him. That is your main duty, as a father.
Joe Patero, however, was in a much larger position. His silence about, and possible 'unwillingness to name', ghastly predatory acts may have protected the school, Coach Sandusky, the money, and sports etc., but it allowed multiple--unending--victimization of others not in a position to protect themselves, to go on--and that is not acceptable.
Any adult involved in schools, programs, and with such influence--for which he certainly gets paid the big bucks, too--and children, HAS to be able to speak about such things. They HAVE to be able to sacrifice their own comfort and position in order to protect those whom they serve who are in a subordinate, vulnerable position, or they DO NOT deserve their jobs.
Stop making excuses for the man! Quit mewing about how 'maybe Joe was uncertain' or that such things were 'unmentionable', 'hard'--or that Joe didn't know for 100% sure. Of course Joe knew! Why else would he have quietly ushered Sandusky out of his job? Why did he refuse to have him as his next-in-line? Who do you think put the word out to other colleges so that he wasn't hired by any other school once he left Penn State? Do you think we're stupid?
I don't give a damn if Joe'd be in a 'difficult' position; somebody has to take a stand against something! Somebody has to hold their moral responsibility as more dear than any job, perq, or influence they may have. People in authority have to do the right thing, for there to be right things, come what may.
Did Joe Paterno even try to handle this thing adequately? Did he go to the kids and young adults to ask them about it himself? Did he gather evidence from them? Did he contact their parents? Did he suggest they take their raped kids to a hospital in which to gather definitive proof (and get some treatment for the victim)? Did he file any charges with the police himself? Did he go to the NCAA? Did he discuss this with the college president and board? Did he speak to the board members of the Second Mile foundation? Absent his ability to do any of these things, did he, at minimum, ask anyone else for help in dealing with this matter? Did he develop a protocol for handling sexual abuse accusations against his staff?
Did he call in Sandusky, read him the riot act, and tell him if ONE more child is EVER hurt, that he'd go to every official and media outlet in the land--and then prepare to do so? Did he tell him he'd mail the evidence to every single family who had a child in the athletic programs at Penn State and tell them what was going on and to protect their kids? Did he fire him to his face and tell him he better give up the 'Second Mile' club and work in a car factory or something, or all of this would break bad, real bad?
Did he provide even minimal supervision of the man, once he knew what he was doing? Did he curtail the recruiting trips, high school 'scouting', and his 'fundraising-for-favors? Did he take away Sandusky's hall passes, building access, and the damned keys to the shower room? Did he ever even take him behind the gym and beat the shit out of him?
If I was a man, I might have... As a woman, I would have brought him into my office and said 'it stops now, it stops today, or I will ruin every single aspect of your life to get this halted' (and I would have). I wouldn't have cared what happened to my job. Who in the hell is thinking about those boys?