"Joe Paterno...knew about Jerry Sandusky, allegedly a sexual predator who horribly raped young boys in the football locker room and shower, but did nothing." (Emphasis mine)One need only read the comboxes beneath related web stories for more extreme rhetoric and bombast condemning Coach Paterno.
Now, in order for the reader to grasp what I'm going to say here, I have to ask that you try to suspend from your mind the information that is available today regarding the Penn State sex abuse scandal. It is all to easy for 20/20 hindsight to take over and condemn a man based on evidence that surfaced after the criticized action in question. Try to transplant yourself into the past as the details unfolded in reality. Consider possible scenarios consistent with what is known. Take this thought exercise with me.
The key document in all this is a 23-page Grand Jury Report (released November 5, 2011) on Jerry Sandusky's crimes. Despite the media frenzy that has called for Paterno's head and questioned his moral integrity, Paterno is mentioned in the Report just a few times. And not all of these are in relation to what detail of abuse, and how credible it was at the time, then-28-year-old graduate assistant Mike McQueary relayed to Paterno. As the Wall Street Journal noted earlier today: "It isn't clear from conflicting reports whether that graduate assistant told Mr. Paterno the ugly details of the sexual assault that is described in the grand jury report."
Here is the key excerpt from the Grand Jury Report that references Paterno's involvement.
[The document describes in horrific detail what McQueary reported about a pedophile rape in a school shower.] [McQueary] telephoned Paterno and went to Paterno's home, where he reported what he had seen. (page 7)At this point, the document does not tell us if the description reported at that time matched the disturbing details that preceded in the Report. The subsequent text suggests otherwise:
Joseph V. Paterno testified to receiving the graduate assistant's report at his home on a Saturday morning. Paterno testified that the graduate assistant was very upset. Paterno called Tim Curley ("Curley"), Penn State 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.
Paterno is not mentioned again until later. Here are a few more details from the Report.
Now, consider the following. It remains unclear what were the nature of details McQueary told Paterno. Paterno, on a Sunday, brought McQueary's report to the attention of his own superior, Curley. Curley then conducted an investigation with Schultz. Their testimony was determined by the Grand Jury to contain falsehoods.
- According to Curley, that McQueary described the shower incident as Sandusky and the youth "horsing around." Curley elsewhere denied that McQueary reported "'sexual conduct' 'of any kind'" having taken place. (page 8)
- The school president Graham Spanier reportedly said that he learned Sandusky and the boy "were horsing around in the shower." He denied that he was told that the incident was "sexual in nature." (page 10)
- Another member of the school, Gary Schultz, Senior Vice President for Finance and Business, became involved with Curley's investigation. According to Schultz's testimony, "he and Curley 'had no indication that a crime had occurred.'" Schultz also suggested that he understood the incident to have been Sandusky and the youth "wrestling." (page 9)
- The Report later identifies the school's obligation by law to have reported suspected child abuse. It also states: "The Grand Jury finds that Tim Curley made a materially false statement under oath in an official proceeding on January 12, 2011.." and "[T]he Grand jury finds that Gary Schultz made a materially false statement under oath in an official proceeding on January 12, 2011..." (page 12)
Before we condemn Coach Paterno then, are there not a number of questions that are relevant? First, is what cause did Paterno have to assume the subsequent investigation conducted by Curley and Schultz would be incompetent or dishonest? I've yet to see anyone in the media ask that question, much less provide an answer.
Second, Curley, Schultz, and Spanier all told the Grand Jury that they did not determine any sexual conduct to have taken place in the showers that night. So if they were willing to tell that to a Grand Jury, then might they have told Coach Paterno the same thing back in 2002? And if so, what cause had Paterno to assume they had colluded to protect Sandusky? After all, if one reads the Report, Paterno's involvement was limited. Primarily, he was the one who brought the incident to the attention of university officials.
Third, even according to the Grand Jury Report, it seems McQueary used varying language as to what he saw in the showers. On pages 6-7, the Report indicates without qualification that McQueary witnessed Sandusky raping a boy. But on page 7, the Report reads "he had witnessed what he believed to be Sandusky [raping] a boy..." Between these variations and talk of "wrestling" or "horsing around" that was espoused by the other university officials, is it possible that Paterno did not feel McQueary truly saw sexual misconduct?
Remember, suspend your 20/20 hindsight for a moment and consider such details contained in the report.
Now, if one wants to say Paterno "could have done more," one merely agrees with what Paterno said recently in light of the revelation of Sandusky's apparent guilt. "With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more," Paterno said. And who wouldn't say that in light of what is known now.
So can one say Paterno should have ignored the conclusions of his superiors and brought this to the police anyway? Let's say the answer to that is yes, he should have done "more." Paterno was fired by the University on Wednesday. Paterno did not witness the crime. McQueary, the actual witness, neither took the matter beyond school officials even after they did not report Sandusky to the police themselves. Yet McQueary, as of the time of this post, retains his job and will be an assistant coach on Saturday! Curley, who spearheaded the investigation and is under investigation for perjury, is only on "administrative leave"!
So is it not a fair question: Is Joe Paterno a scapegoat? Did Penn State University use the firing of Paterno, the most famous individual in this saga, as a "big statement" to "show" that they were really taking this seriously?
And is all the rhetoric and bombast for Paterno's head the product of some other form of hatred? Is he too iconic of the old school university seen by many as a culture of exclusivist bigotry? Is there a sentiment against the sport of football altogether?
Rather can we not agree that it is possible to decry sex abuse and yet not pass excessive judgment on a man who did move the investigation forward?
And what credibility have people like The Nation magazine's sports writer Dave Zirin who recently wrote of Penn State: "[F]ootball is so valuable that children can become collateral damage"; yet on another day write an anti-Christian article on Tim Tebow that called him "anti-abortion"! And consider the opening quote from the two writers who claimed Paterno "did nothing." These are the kinds of sentiments that indicate there are other motives to criticize Paterno than that he is actually a villain.
If Paterno was the negligent, immoral villain the way many have described him, I don't think it can be said because of what is publicly known thus far. Whatever we say about Paterno, I think the Catechism's definition of "Justice" is appropriate: "Justice - The cardinal moral virtue which consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and to neighbor."
One thing is for sure, Joe Paterno's students will ever love him for all that he did for them. (Watch a group of students supporting Paterno outside his home earlier tonight.)
EDIT 11/11/11 (8:00 a.m.): Since last evening, McQueary will now not be coaching on the field on Saturday––however, not because he is being punished, but because he is being preserved from "multiple threats." According to Penn State officials: "Due to multiple threats made against Assistant Coach Mike McQueary, the University has decided it would be in the best interest of all for Assistant Coach McQueary not to be in attendance at Saturday's Nebraska game."
EDIT 11/11/11 (1:23 p.m.): It was also reported that a lawyer representing the victims in this case has expressed disapproval on behalf of his clients that Paterno was fired. He is quoted:If that is the case, one would think even the victims, at this point, do not believe Paterno's actions warranted his dismissal.
"The board of trustees got it wrong. They should have consulted the victims before making a decision on Mr. Paterno...They should have considered these victims watch TV and are aware of the students' reaction and may not want to be associated with the downfall of Mr. Paterno. The school instead elected to do what it felt was in its own best interest at the time. Isn’t that what put the school in this position in the first place?"