Better Analysis Bureau: “In Defense of Joe Paterno”

I’m posting this here because someone liked and applauded this article on facebook and for whatever reason it won’t let me comment as well.  Yes, I realize I’m kind of beating the Penn State topic to death.

In this installment of the Better Analysis Bureau, we take issue with William Choslovsky’s op-ed on PennLive.com, “In Defense of Joe Paterno.”  Let’s take a look at Choslovsky’s argument.

Best I’ve gathered, Joe Paterno apparently had two concrete opportunities to take action against Sandusky.

According to reports, the first came in 1998, when a mother of a boy reported Sandusky to police. Police fully investigated — including secretly listening in on conversations Sandusky had with the mother — and did not charge Sandusky with anything.

Given that, it’s unclear whether Paterno had “grounds” to fire Sandusky then. After all, Paterno witnessed nothing and the authorities — after a full investigation — took no action. Had he fired Sandusky or done something, he (and the university) could have been sued for wrongful discharge or defamation.

OK so far.  This bit neglects the facts that Paterno did not take any action to prevent Sandusky from continuing to bring children into Penn State’s shower facilities or even discuss the incident with Sandusky.  It also doesn’t address the role Paterno may have played in creating an atmosphere in which assistant coaches and other university employees felt they should not or could not come forward about Sandusky’s behavior, but OK.  Maybe Paterno couldn’t have fired Sandusky then.  Fair enough.

The next opportunity Paterno had to do something was the much-discussed shower incident in 2001.

Indeed.

That was when a graduate assistant coach saw Sandusky doing something sexually inappropriate — just what remains unclear — with a boy in a shower.

Holy euphemisms, Batman!  I suppose it is technically true that we do not know precisely “just what” occurred between Sandusky and the boy is unclear…but we have a really good idea.  Here is how the Freeh Report recalls Mike McQueary’s testimony on that incident.  For anyone who has not read it before, it’s pretty difficult to read.

Upon opening the locker room door, McQueary hear “rhythmic slapping sounds” from the shower.  McQueary looked into the shower through a mirror and saw Sandusky with a “prepubescent 10- or 12-year-old boy.  McQueary saw Sandusky “directly behind” the boy with his arms around the boy’s waist or midsection.  The boy had his hands against the wall, and the two were in “a very sexual position.”  McQueary believed Sandusky was “sexually molesting” the boy and “having some type of intercourse with him” although he “did not see insertion nor was there any verbiage or protest, screaming or yelling.”

So, yes, what precisely was happening is a somewhat open question.  But, come on.  In the sake of fairness, I suppose I have to allow for the possibility that Choslovsky is being euphemistic about this incident because he’s writing for a family outlet and a blunt assertion of what was going on might be inappropriate.  But this sentence is far milder than it needs to be for those purposes; an uncritical reader or one who wasn’t already aware of the shower incident could easily come away thinking that there was substantial doubt about what Sandusky had done, that the incident might not have been that big of a deal.

I wish I could say I didn’t understand why Choslovsky is downplaying the severity of what Sandusky did that night, but his motivation is obvious.  Choslovsky is so wrapped up in trying to excuse and explain Paterno’s behavior that hes letting Sandusky off the hook.  To Choslovsky, the goal of making Paterno seem faultless supersedes calling a pedophile’s rape of a prepubescent boy what it is.  I’d point out the extreme irony here, but SomeDisagree readers are a smart bunch, so I’ll assume they don’t need it spelled out.  Let’s return to the article.

Paterno was 74 then and like most men of his age and upbringing, probably entirely unfamiliar with child sex abuse, let alone the protocol for handling it.

What.  In.  The.  Ever.  Living.  Fuck.  You don’t need to be young, or to have any particular upbringing, to know that the proper response to the sexual abuse of children is to call the fucking police.  This has to be the weakest excuse I have ever read for anything, ever.  I’m utterly dumbfounded that anyone could even think this, let alone that it could get presented as a legitimate argument in a quasi-major publication, or that someone as incredibly intelligent as that person could read an article with this drivel and call it “great.”  Unbelievable.

Even so, “yes,” it is clear that Paterno could have done more than just report the incident to his superiors. He could have picked up the phone and called police to report a likely crime committed against a hapless young child.

He didn’t.

But again, let’s remember, this was secondhand information Paterno received about a former employee. Sure, with the benefit of hindsight and the ability to reconstruct the timeline in slow motion, there are places where we can now say “stop the tape” and point to moments where something more should have been done.

I’m sorry, but no.  This is not a case where the 20/20 hindsight is leading us to conclusions that people Paterno couldn’t have reasonably arrived at by himself in the moment.   McQueary came to Paterno’s house the next day and told him what he had seen.  McQueary apparently didn’t use the words “sodomy” or “anal penetration,” but Paterno’s testimony indicates that he understood that Sandusky had done something extremely serious of a sexual nature with a young boy, and that he did not press for details because he saw that McQueary “was very upset” by what he had seen.

Also, let us not forget that this “former employee” is the same one Paterno knew had been investigated for abusing a child just three years previously.  So put yourself in Paterno’s shoes.  You’re the leader of an organization and one of your subordinates comes to you, incredibly upset, telling you that one of your former employees, a man you know to have been investigated for this exact crime not long ago, has been abusing a young boy in one of your facilities.  Is it really unreasonable for you to tell that subordinate to report what he saw to the police, or to take that step yourself?  Really?  You could only come to that conclusion by hindsight?  If so, it’s a miracle any crime anywhere ever gets reported.

But I think the most egregiously horrible part of this op-ed is found in the following quotes.

But to suggest, as is now being done, that Paterno was somehow complicit in Sandusky’s depravity, when he reported the incident, seems unfair.

Why the senior leaders — including executives and lawyers — did not take more action when Paterno relayed the report seems the real question.

The mind boggles.  Why didn’t the executives and lawyers at Penn State take more action?  Oh, right, because they conspired with Paterno to keep this quiet.  According to the Freeh Report, Paterno was key in the decision to not report what McQueary saw to the police or the Department of Welfare.  For anyone that needs to see it again, here is the “smoking gun” email, sent by Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley to school president Graham Spanier and vice president Gary Schultz.

After giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe yesterday — I am uncomfortable with what we agreed were the next steps.  I am having trouble with going to everyone, but the person involved.

From Spanier’s reply email:

The only downside for us is if the message isn’t “heard” and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it.

So, no, it’s not unfair to consider Paterno complicit in Sandusky’s depravity.  Paterno was directly involved in the decision to let Sandusky’s abuse of a child – abuse that was eye-witnessed by his assistant coach and former starting quarterback – go unreported and unpunished.  Jerry Sandusky was convicted of sexually assaulting two more boys on Penn State facilities after the “shower incident.”

Furthermore, this article completely fails to address the atmosphere at Penn State in 2000, when a janitor witnessed Sandusky performing oral sex on a young boy in the showers.  Why didn’t this janitor report what he’d seen to the authorities?

A senior janitorial employee (“Janitor C”) on duty that night spoke with the staff, who had gathered with Janitor A to calm him down. Janitor C advised Janitor A how he could report what he saw, if he wanted to do so. Janitor B said he would stand by Janitor A if he reported the incident to the police, but Janitor A said, “no, they’ll get rid of all of us.”

Janitor B explained to the Special Investigative Counsel that reporting the incident “would have been like going against the President of the United States in my eyes.” “I know Paterno has so much power, fi he wanted to get rid of someone, I would have been gone.” He explained “football runs this University,” and said the University would have closed ranks to protect the football program at all costs.

Now, this is obviously all speculation.  There’s no way to know for sure if these janitors actually would have been fired had they come forward about Sandusky.  But this incident, coupled with the several assistant coaches who saw Sandusky showering with young boys prior to 1998 and never reported the behavior, raises very serious questions about the culture and environment at Penn State, and Paterno’s culpability in creating that environment.

Choslovsky’s ultimate thesis is that the strikes against Paterno’s legacy – the condemnation in the national media, the removal of Paterno’s statue, the vacation of 111 of Paterno’s wins – amount to to little more than a witch hunt.

This discussion, however, is naive, as it assumes people care about truth, logic and context. Why bother when there is a legacy to quickly tear down?

The entire episode reflects the modern American dynamic of tearing down anything or anyone good around us.

It reflects ignoring 99 percent of goodness to instead focus on 1 percent of questionable conduct. It ultimately reflects hate.

First of all, the irony of Choslovsky castigating people for not caring about “truth, logic and context” in this article is just staggering.  But more importantly, he’s completely wrong.  I’m not a Penn State fan, but I grew up in Big Ten country and had as much respect for Joe Paterno as anyone outside the Penn State world.  And truly, Joe Paterno was a giant in the world of college football.  It is a shame that his legacy has been tarnished by this saga.

But let there be no mistake: his legacy is tarnished, and it is tarnished for highly legitimate reasons.  By his actions and inactions, Joe Paterno allowed unspeakable acts to continue unreported and unpunished for years.  There are several people who might never have had to endure the horror of sexual abuse had he behaved responsibly.   I say this not because I am on a witch hunt, not because I relish the chance to tear down a legacy, not because I want to gloat over the falling of an idol.  These are facts and they aren’t going away no matter how much Penn State’s alumni and fans want them to.

The pursuit of truth is the highest calling of universities everywhere.  Until recently, Joe Paterno’s legacy was synonymous with integrity.  In downplaying Paterno’s role in this tragedy, in grasping at straws to defend the indefensible, Choslovsky cheapens both values.

Author: inuyesta

Law student with Josh Lyman dreams in a Toby Ziegler reality.

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