Why Joe Paterno Had to Go & Lessons From Penn State

So we have as a nation have been watching the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State unfold before us—like an award winning Hollywood screenplay.  Full of all of the things an
Oscar worthy film inhabits—sex, secrets, tragedy, victims, villains, and the ultimate triumph of good over evil.  But this is not a movie that any of us really wanted to see. The athletic program of a renowned university torn to pieces because of the repulsive, sickening desires of a man who desired to sexually conquer young boys.   As I read the grand jury indictment report I wasn’t repulsed or sickened as many of my friends reported they were.  I wasn’t shocked as Mike McQuery described the “rhythmic slapping” of sexual activity he overheard in the shower on campus. Perhaps my career or experiences have
de-sensitized me to the horrors of abuse. I am blessed to have not been abused in any way in my life (minus the typically black family spankings) but I have friends who have experienced sexual abuse throughout their lives. I’ll  also never forget being put in the car as a sleeping child to ride with my mother to her friend’s home, who in the middle of the night, had remembered a repressed memory of her father sexually molesting her, and had a nervous breakdown in that instant.   When I read Jerry Sandusky’s grand jury indictment, I was angry and I was saddened.  Read Sandusky Grand Jury Report I was angry because in those 23 pages, the one thing that rang clear as the Liberty Bell, was that people knew exactly what Jerry Sandusky had done, was doing, and continued to do.  EVERYONE KNEW. The first allegations were made almost 14 years ago and when Sandusky admitted to inappropriate behavior, campus and police officials made him promise he would not shower with the boys anymore and that he wouldn’t touch anyone again. Seriously?! He gets to promise to do better and that’s it?! EVERYONE KNEW.  The police, the school, the janitors, and the coaches.  Even the legendary Joe Paterno. The man who could do no wrong. The man who led students and football teams and players to greatness for 60 years. And that is why that man, Joe Paterno had to go.

“This is a tragedy,” Paterno said. “It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.” I’ve had conversations with many folks since this scandal broke and even more since Joe Paterno was fired.  And oddly enough the opinions have been split down gender lines with the men I’ve spoken to feeling like they knew Paterno would go down for this but that he is just the “fall guy” and didn’t deserve to be canned.   The women on the other hand have been righteously indignant in their opinion that Paterno had to be fired.   Regardless of how we feel about it, the bottom line is JOE PATERNO BROKE THE LAW.  So NO you don’t get to stay until the end of the season. You go NOW. School administrators and teachers, according to Pennsylvania law, are mandatory REPORTERS. And don’t give me some bullshit response about Paterno not being a “teacher” per se and thus he falls into a loophole in the law.  He had a duty to REPORT what then graduate assistant Mike McQuery told him.  He was moved enough by the disturbed way McQuery came to him to call a meeting of the SVP and Athletic Director the very next day. But there is where he left it. He never followed up. He never asked what happened. He never reported it.  The appearance of impropriety is often just as bad if not worse than the allegation of it.  As the Head Coach of Penn State Football, Paterno should be charged with turning a blind eye, failure to report and a failure to protect.  Not to mention, if you ask me, Paterno knew that Sandusky wasn’t quite right.  The first allegations about his abuse were in 1998, when University police investigated incidents with Sandusky and young boys in the shower on Penn State’s campus.  It was the following year that Joe Pa told Sandusky that he would never be a Head Coach at Penn State. The next month, Sandusky retired.  A man who coached there for 30 years was told he’d never be Head Coach. Sound strange to you? Sure there were likely some legitimate football or political reasons that he wouldn’t ascend to the throne. But I’m willing to bet my last that part of that reason is because Joe Paterno knew that Sandusky had a lust for boys and had had inappropriate contact with many right under his nose. Joe Paterno is no fool! And if you think he is, then you may be one too.

Don’t get me wrong, the people most responsible for this will hopefully see jail, financial ruin, and career devastation—those people are Jerry Sandusky, Tim Curley (Athletic Director) and Gary Schultz (SVP of Finance & Business).  Some even feel that Mike McQuery, the whistleblowing grad assistant turned assistant coach should also be fired.  I disagree with that notion because he didn’t have a legal obligation to report the abuse at
the time of the occurrence.  And although you weren’t included in what is obviously a huge corporate cove-up, turning a blind eye doesn’t not absolve you of your sins Joe Paterno.  And for that you must pay with what you hold most dearly.  And why shouldn’t you?! If
one of those eight boys who Sandusky gave wet, naked bear hugs to in the shower were his son, he would’ve demanded a coach, teacher, or anyone else who had inkling that his son was being abused be taken all the way down.

Although I didn’t play sports as a child, I had many friends whose only outlets were the Optimist (Pee-Wee) Football programs and cheerleading programs offered by local parks and city colleges. But it wasn’t the presence of a football that created this opportunity. It could’ve happened to me while playing Oregon Trail in computer camp at Pace Academy. The lesson from all of this is to PAY ATTENTION. Be vigilant with our children and the
people who “participate” in their lives. It is not enough to drop your child off somewhere and assume that when you pick them up that they are in one piece. Our children are being dropped off in one piece but coming home BROKEN.  And we often don’t even see the thousand pieces they are returned to us in, even when it is right in front of us.  Yes times are hard. Yes we are all struggling to make ends meet. Afterschool pickups are rough for working parents. Enrichment programs provide a much needed outlet for students and parents and many programs are credited with creating strong, independent, brilliant  young adults. But I beg of you, pay attention! Sleepovers at the houses of grown men (or women) who are unrelated or to your children should be OFF LIMITS. And that’s not to suggest that abuse doesn’t happen with relatives, but I am talking about reducing the risks because eliminating them are impossible. And regardless of how you choose to regulate your child’s activities outside of your presence just be vigilant.  I am sure the parents of the children involved in this tragic scandal are asking themselves what they missed, what
they didn’t see, and why they didn’t know. And for those who did know, they are asking themselves why they never came forward before now.  Our teachers must be brave enough to report what they hear and what they see the moment they become aware of potential
abuse.  They must also pay attention. Our children spend more time in school than they do at home!  Teachers are incredible gatekeepers to the lives of our children and are on the front lines to protect and report signs of abuse. Children are the most innocent of victims. If we don’t protect them,stand up for them, and speak for them, who will?  I weep for the innocence that was lost in these young men and in the dozens that I’m sure have yet to come forward, who suffer in silence everyday. But I am joyful that as of this week, those boys can rejoice in their ultimate triumph over the monster that defiled them years ago.  I sure the fires of hell are roaring in preparation for the arrival of Jerry Sandusky. Until then, we will let the justice system have him. Gladly.

About Sweet Nothings

I went to college and majored and Mass Communications/Public Relations but decided to take my passion for promoting others to law school....where i could then learn to promote MYSELF! Kidding. Kind of. Now I'm a lawyer. 8 years later, big whoop and womp womp.
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5 Responses to Why Joe Paterno Had to Go & Lessons From Penn State

  1. Tiffany says:

    Keitha, I have to disagree, as I read the Penn law, JoePa had no legal obligation to report to authorities, the university did. And if McQuery had no obligation, as your article states, then as a similarly situated employee of Penn State, neither did Paterno. I’m not saying morally they are off the hook, but legally I believe they are in the clear. And the media has recently been changing their tune to reflect this fact now using words like moral obligation to describe why the public should be upset with Paterno and why his firing is justified.

    • Thanks for posting Tiffany!! I just disagree with your interpretation of the law. The statutes surrounding the one cited in the GJ report (gotta love that book browse feature in Lexis) speaks to not only the person who runs the institution. It includes teachers, administrators, and the like. Surely the argument from Jo Pa’s attorney will be that he wasn’t any of the above. I’d argue that if i were his lawyer. But as an attorney for the state I’d show how his position was so similar to those that even if his job title did not include those words, he was also a mandatory reporter. And I don’t think anyone disagrees that he had a moral obligation. That’s the one he’ll have to live with more than anything. I don’t think he should go to jail. But I do think he has to be held accountable and his dismissal is a step in that direction.

  2. Rita says:

    Thanks for the great overview of this case and the passion you expressed over this issue I share. Our children must be protected at all costs.

  3. Disco Diva says:

    This story is so sad simply because so many people knew and did nothing. I don’t know how they can live with themselves. Those poor young boys…

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