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Placing Blame with Joe Paterno

Paterno, the man widely credited with making the Penn State football program a great institution, one of high ethical standard and commitment to excellence, should now be held accountable for its misdeeds and actions, including abetting a serial pedophile

I have not come to praise Joe Paterno, but to bury him.

Because sadly, by creating a culture at Penn State that revered the university’s football program above all else, the late head coach set the stage to allow a now-convicted child sexual predator to roam free for years to prey on innocent children.

Paterno - the man widely credited with making the Penn State football program a great institution, with instilling in his players a high ethical standard and commitment to excellence both on the playing field and in the classroom, and with building a legacy of the “Happy Valley” culture—should also be held accountable for , amounting to abetting a serial pedophile.

In June, Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant coach of Penn State’s Nittany Lions football team, was convicted on 45 of 48 counts of sexual abuse and assault of 10 boys. Since the guilty verdict, an investigation—headed by former FBI director Louis Freeh, and paid for by the university itself—found that the college leadership, including Paterno, showed “total and consistent disregard…for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims,” according to a report released last week.

What’s more, those senior university officials “failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade.”

In other words, football won out over children.

Over six months, investigators interviewed more than 400 witnesses and reviewed documents and emails that showed what amounts to a cover-up—university leadership had discussions on multiple occasions about allegations of Sandusky’s actions, and yet nothing was ever done. They hid facts, kept secrets and created an atmosphere where “doing the right thing” and reporting Sandusky couldn’t and wouldn’t happen. They protected a man they knew was hurting children, long after his formal relationship with the university ended; in fact, Sandusky continued to receive perks and payments after his retirement.

Among the report’s many indictments against the school and its leadership, it says that Sandusky was allowed access to Penn State facilities after he was no longer a coach for the team, bringing victims there on multiple occasions. In fact, the report confirms that Sandusky still had locker room keys even after his arrest last November.

According to the New York Times, “the investigation makes clear it was Mr. Paterno, long regarded as the single most powerful official at the university, who persuaded the university president and others not to report Mr. Sandusky to the authorities in 2001 after he had violently assaulted another boy in the football showers.”

During the press conference when the report was released, Freeh said what was of prime concern to Paterno and other Penn State officials was a “fear of bad publicity” and how that bad publicity would impact the program and Paterno’s reputation. Of course that bad p.r. was a direct threat against the prestige of a football program with “Joe Pa” Paterno at the helm—and against Penn State’s ability to raise boatloads of money that comes along with that prestige and domination.

Any early action against one of its own would have hurt the football program. And remember, it was the football program above all else at Penn State.

Football 1, Team Morals 0.

Sure, punitive action has since been taken against some of those Penn State leaders:  before he died, Paterno was fired; the university president Graham Spanier was forced out; and two former school officials—vice president Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley—have been charged with perjury and failure to report abuse. But I’m not sure that’s enough, given the extent of irreparable hurt and damage the scandal has caused.

Certainly, the victims hurt most egregiously were the boys raped and abused by Sandusky. More victims will undoubtedly come forward; just Monday, a CNN contributor with the Harrisburg Pilot reported that more men have contacted police to report being abused by Sandusky in the 1970s and 1980s. This follows the post-verdict announcement that Sandusky’s adopted son also said he had been abused.

There are other, lesser victims from the fallout—Penn State students, alumni, faculty and even those who defended Paterno after the scandal broke in a media storm. They were fed a false myth, something out of The Wizard of Oz: “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” They don’t deserve the blame, they did no wrong.

The reputation of their university has been damaged, and there might even be further repercussions:  the U.S. Department of Education may find that Penn State was in violation of the Clery Act, which requires schools to collect information about alleged crimes and report any that pose a threat to the community. This carries potential civil penalties and fines.

Is it enough? Is it fair? Since it was the football program that was placed above all else, perhaps that’s the place where a realignment of value needs to be made. Responsibility needs to be placed at the feet of the program itself. If it was a culture of Happy Valley Football First, then Happy Valley Football should be first to take the blame.

The university and the NCAA should show that the legacy of Penn State—not Joe Paterno, but of Penn State—will be to put children first. There needs to be consideration as to whether Penn State’s revered football program should be banned from participation in college competition. Some larger statement will show that it wasn’t Penn State, but those who steered the ship wrong in deference of an athletic program.

Jerry Sandusky will pay heavily for his crimes; perhaps there is really not enough punishment for the damage he caused, but when he is sentenced come September, he will surely, hopefully, get the maximum penalty allowed.

Sadly, it’s Joe Paterno who will never be able to rightfully acknowledge his role in the awful horror that came out of his actions that allowed Sandusky to continue doing what he did for so long. But history will now show that Paterno’s legacy isn’t the one he thought he was building over so many years, one of greatness and honor.

Instead, he will be remembered for bringing shame and pain to so many.

Mary Caffrey Pereira July 17, 2012 at 10:33 AM
It is astonishing to me that so many adults, not just adults, but people of authority, knew about this AND SAID NOTHING! I can't believe not one of those said adults stood up for the young men in their community. It is disgusting, and All of the people should be called out by name in the every public forum possible. Everyone in the community should know that they allowed the boys to be abused.
chris July 17, 2012 at 12:11 PM
joe paterno doesn't even deserve his name capitalized. His statue should be burned, and his work at Penn State should be nullified. If you are assisting or abetting a pedophile in any way, I put you on that same level as the pedophile. I am glad this FBI report has been released, people need to know the truth and stop praising this scum. His legacy............a joke.
brutus July 18, 2012 at 01:33 AM
the problem at Penn State is identical to that of the Catholic Church. too many people view the institution and its reputation as more important than justice and the lives of innocent children. it's really a systemic problem in society as a whole. similar to good cops not turning in dirty cops, employees not speaking out against an unethical CEO, etc. and for the ones that do, society gives them such pleasant nicknames as snitch, rat, and whistleblower. heck, we tell kids not to tattle. maybe they should.
marie July 18, 2012 at 05:58 AM
I hope all team and university leaders around the country have learned from this: first and formost, pay attention to justice, not profit. the former university president, Graham Spanier, whose scholarly work was, most ironically, in Family studies and therapy, should serve as the poster child for this responsibility of all leaders. Do The Right Thing first!
marie July 18, 2012 at 06:03 AM
ps. Wow, Spanier now has a job in national security. Who trusts him to keep any of us safe?? Credibility is very hard to restore once it is gone...
Barry Coyle July 18, 2012 at 02:47 PM
Suspending the football program will only hurt the student football players, & other programs that go with it. Hold individuals accountable, but this whole idea of punishing the team, fans, etc is extreme. It suggests that we are not responsible for our own actions if the group must sacrifice for the individual's crime. I agree the crime is hanious, but blaming it on the football program will only encourage future predators to escape blame. The presidence set in this case goes beyond sports. Hold each criminal accountable, it is the ultimate deterant.

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