The former icon with an incredibly long track record of high character is now the target of widespread attempts to demean him in the wake of the horrific Jerry Sandusky scandal
It's open season on Joe Paterno:
- A graduate assistant for a season or two in the mid-late 1980s goes on a prominent New York radio show and says Joe Paterno knew everything about everything at PSU and thus had to know about Sandusky. And JoePa was racist and didn't want a black quarterback (despite having no fewer than five black starting QBs at PSU). And Paterno got upset when his players' class schedules conflicted with practice (as does every coach; student-athlete class schedules always are arranged around practices as much as is possible). And on and on. And Sports Illustrated now is using this ex-graduate assistant as a primary source of insight into the "true" Joe Paterno. (A modest estimate: about 20,000 people know Paterno better than this guy - were none of them available?)
- A former Penn State VP says she and JoePa clashed in matters relating to discipline/punishment for football players in the mid-2000s (as does every major college football coach with student discipline administrators), and that ultimately she lost her job a few years ago because of it (this story on the front page of the Wall Street Journal!). She characterized Paterno as desiring to be extra lenient on players (despite 46 years of much-documented evidence primarily to the contrary).
- A former Daily Collegian writer says Paterno was not accommodating to the media when he was at PSU and basically doesn't like Paterno because of that, and for a few other reasons, and you shouldn't either. Oh, and the former student writer is not sure if Penn State did anything special to help a troubled ex-PSU football player who committed a murder in State College in 2005. (But he doesn't seem to know that they didn't help, either. Or that they had any indication of the depths of his troubles when he no longer was with the program.)
Who could have imagined before this month someone such as longtime Syracuse basketball coach Jim Freakin' Boeheim high-roading Joe Paterno, and hardly anyone flinching? (At least not until a week later, when Boeheim started backpedaling at warp speed when the emerging scandal about Boeheim's longtime assistant Bernie Fine metastasized.)
Never mind that the factual evidence against Paterno at this point, relating to the mind-numbing matter involving the sexual abuse charges against Sandusky, is mainly contained in one sentence. Specifically a few powerful words in that sentence, from the grand jury presentment, a presentment that brought 40 counts of child sex abuse charges against Sandusky, and perjury charges against PSU AD Tim Curley and PSU VP Gary Schultz.
Paterno's total involvement is five sentences on pages 6-7 of the 23-page report. The most pertinent: "Paterno called Tim Curley, Penn State's 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."
Anything else relating to Paterno's role, or possible role, in enabling Sandusky or covering up Sandusky's horrifying alleged acts is not based on known facts. It is conjecture, extrapolation, assumption, conspiracy and the like. It is based on what else everyone thinks he should have done with that information, even though no one knows what else he might have done, or might have known, or might have been told.
It is based on one piece of information about a situation in which a staggering amount still is unknown.
This isn't meant to be naive or defensive about Paterno: This looks really, really bad for JoePa. When the investigation is complete - and hopefully that will be sooner rather than later, and hopefully the true facts will emerge, and the guilty and not guilty and somewhat guilty will be discernible - there seems to be a good chance Paterno will have played a central role in, at the least, enabling Sandusky's acts of pedophilia. There's a heck of a lot of smoke here - in addition to the fact he knew at least something - to be in denial about that.
As Paterno has said, obviously he should have done more. In time, we'll know how much more. Was Paterno orchestrating a cover-up? Or encouraging one behind the scenes? Or did he merely know enough that he clearly should have done much more? Or was he kept in the dark by others?
Somewhere in there are the bigger truths, and other important facts. But we don't know. Not now, not yet.
Nonetheless, a great many reasonable persons have, in their minds, 99.9 percent convicted Paterno of at least enabling Sandusky's acts, of moral culpability. Most have convicted him of far worse. Which is highly disappointing, considering the country in which we live, the small percentage of information we have, and the public scandals that have emerged in our lifetime that months or years years later turned out to have a very different truths than first thought (Exhibit A being the Duke lacrosse scandal).
But that is how powerful the emotions are when it comes to crimes against humanity, crimes against children, like those alleged against Sandusky.
And the media is feeding right into the whole thing. Because it's the way the wind blows right now. Instead of true examinations of how Sandusky could have perpetrated such repulsive acts for so long, we get random individuals with axes to grind against Paterno, as if what they say suddenly will make this entire situation all make sense. (So Paterno wanted control over punishment of his players? Well then, that perfectly explains how Sandusky's behavior could have happened.)
Never mind that it all runs diametrically opposite of Paterno's reputation for six decades. Think about that: Paterno has lived in the public eye for 62 years, in the center of that eye for the last 46 - forty-six years as head coach of Penn State football! Yet his reputation was - while definitely not impeccable as he had some strong detractors - pretty exceptional, all things considered.
One serial sicko (Sandusky) and one sentence with turbocharged words ("fondling" and "of a sexual nature to a young boy") and that's all been slaughtered. Like the tsunami that annihilated the Japanese coast earlier this year.
Paterno has been fired (instead of placed on leave pending the investigation), publicly universally scorned, presumed guilty by extrapolation - by the power of being Joe Paterno - of enabling Sandusky's horrific crimes, and now is on the business end of a mass rewriting-of-Paterno-history campaign through the media.
Based on what we know right now, that's all over the top. Too much, too soon. There will be plenty of time to do all of those things - and worse, if he is deserving of worse - to Paterno later, after the investigation, and/or after Sandusky's trial.
Again, we're not reflexively defending of Almighty JoePa. When all the facts come out there is a good chance Paterno played some sort of a role. Did he think think he was protecting the school, or his legacy, or the football program, or Sandusky? Who knows. We'll see. Let's wait.
Or perhaps he really didn't know much at all. Maybe others were leading a cover-up and keeping it away from Paterno. For all of his alleged dictatorial presiding over State College, Paterno has spent the past decade growing old, going from his mid-70s to his mid-80s. He has dialed back his activity severely. No booster tours, no off-campus recruiting, less time at work and in the office, etc. He's not the overlord of Happy Valley he might have been 20-30 years ago. He's no longer the guy who knows everything about everything. How could he be? He turns 85 in a few weeks.
So why is this all happening? Many reasons.
- First and foremost, everyone naturally is absolutely mortified by the allegations against Sandusky.
- Second, people don't understand how it possibly could have happened, and happened so many times for so long, so they are looking to assess blame.
- Third, Paterno, with his direct connection to Sandusky and longtime status as the King of State College, had to have known more and must be guilty of not doing anything about it.
- Fourth, after such a lengthy career in such a powerful position, Paterno accumulated numerous detractors and some enemies.
- Fifth, he's the obvious target, as his enormous name recognition makes for an easy connection between the media and readers/viewers/listeners, and between people discussing the matter at the water cooler or barstool. Or at the Thanksgiving family gathering.
But change the word "Schultz" to "Paterno," and you've multiplied interest a thousandfold.
Maybe Schultz - the only person at PSU known to have knowledge of both the 1998 and 2002 allegations against Sandusky at the time - and perhaps a small group of others conspired to keep it under wraps, thinking they were protecting the university at the expense of the lives of some children.
It's a possibility.
But the tsunami has engulfed Paterno because he is Paterno. And the media has declared open season on JoePa. Have a gripe? Air it here - we'll put you on the front page! People such as obscure, part-time, short-term coaches from 24 years ago are being propped up as insightful, true sources of information and character assessment (assassination?) about Paterno.
Of course, it is perfectly fine to dislike Paterno for reasons entirely unrelated to the Sandusky scandal. Many anti-Paternoites surely have very valid reasons. As has been written in this space before, Paterno is a flawed person, like everyone. But it seems awfully sketchy for the media to be voicing these feelings now. Many of the comments they're trumping seem specious and misleading - stabs at Paterno that somehow are convoluted into reasons why the Sandusky scandal happened.
Anything negative about Paterno is hot news, so JoePa's carcass keeps getting kicked around. Soon it will be unrecognizable. Eventually, almost everyone will move on.
Then, at some point, the investigation will be completed, and/or the trial will commence, and this will all be big news again, at least for a time.
By then, will it still matter to the masses, and the media, what conclusions are drawn about Paterno? And what if they're decidedly different than those that already have been made? Will anybody care then?
Because that's when people should care the most. When we know all the facts. Right?