The self-inflicted Penn State nightmare has no end in sight. The anger and disgust provoked by Sandusky’s conduct and the subsequent cover-up are understandable, at least towards the majority of actors in the scandal--Sandusky, the coach who saw actual abuse and did not instantly call police, the president and other administrators of the college.
In my opinion, however, the court of public opinion should consider the Joe Paterno issue a little longer--not in light of his coaching career and success, but in an effort to judge the situation fairly.
I’m not a Penn State fan--in fact, I dislike college football and watch it only a) when my sons are at home watching or b)to be culturally educated enough to recognize a few of the important names and rivalries. Most of what I know about college football comes from Tonight Show monologues. Obviously, anyone not shut off from the world has heard Paterno’s name for years.
My sympathy--no, not sympathy--concern--is that I’m not sure he’s being judged fairly as to his actions. My doubts about what more he should have done are seen through the eyes of a teacher who has had to make a number of suspected abuse calls over the last 20 years.
From what I have read and heard on news reports, Paterno did not witness any of the actual abuse. He reported it to superiors and testified in front of a grand jury, which did not result in criminal charges and did not induce the university to release Sandusky.
It’s also my understanding that the incidents Paterno clearly knew about were in the late 1990s, and Sandusky retired after the incident that the graduate student, now assistant coach, witnessed.
When I started teaching, our protocol for reporting abuse was to inform a superior--the counselor or principal. We were discouraged from doing it ourselves for much of the early part of my career--the 80s into the 90s. Since then, Texas law has been clarified and strengthened, and any educator knows the law now requires any of us to report suspected abuse personally. In that context, I can accept that Paterno may not have believed he should go any further than he did. Additionally, if he knew the district attorney made no move to continue the investigation, he may well have decided the matter had been settled legally.
During my 18 years, I’ve made 8 reports, either to supervisors early on, or more recently directly to CPS. Not once have I known the outcome--not once. The two little girls I suspected of having been sexually abused are still at home, still with their parents or guardians. A third was moved from our school, but I have no clue of what happened with her either. Although I still am extremely concerned about one of the girls, I cannot in good faith file another report--the system has, apparently, acted. If new information came up, that would be one thing--but if my general reasons for suspicion are all I have, in spite of the fact that they seem so clear to me--I cannot in “good faith” call. And the requirement is a good faith judgment. God forbid that something happens to those two girls--I would feel awful. But could I have done anything else? No.
Undoubtedly Paterno wishes he’d called the police instead of following policy and reporting to his superiors. Undoubtedly he understands that victims continued to suffer and a monster continued to roam free for way too long after that incident. But in the moment, in the culture of his job--did he believe that he’d done the right thing? Probably he did.
I’m not sure if or how Pennsylvania laws regarding abuse differ from Texas laws, but most of the reports I’ve heard indicate that Paterno met legal requirements. It seems to be that the guiltiest parties--besides Sandusky himself--are the graduate student, now assistant coach, and the administrators, who either failed to act decisively or covered up the charges and thus allowed abuse to continue.
Nothing can restore the innocence and peace the victims lost; nothing can take away the pain and the humiliation.
Paterno has lost face, recognitions, and his job. From what I have read and heard, he dedicated his life to building success for his players, not just in athletics, but in life. Given what I know of the situation--which could admittedly change--it seems to me that he did what he thought he should.
While I understand the desire to condemn, it seems to me at the moment that his role doesn’t warrant the unbridled fury and hatred many are expressing towards him.