Saturday, November 12, 2011

R.I.P. Joe Paterno: Communitarian Outrage Claims Another Victim

There's a difference between appropriate ridicule and an attempt to destroy an entire life because of one mistake. This world is a vicious place full of moral scolds and hypocrites, and when someone makes a mistake, choirs full of these scolds descend to pontificate and screech self-righteously to no end. They demand a man's job, his livelihood, his reputation, and that he resign himself to a cloistered existence as a penitent forever and ever, amen. They want their pound of flesh, and they want it yesterday.

Joe Paterno didn't rape or sodomize any children.  He spent over six decades building a legacy and shaping the lives of young men in a positive way, but when Jerry Sandusky was indicted for sexual assaulting children, Joe Paterno's career came to an end.  Let us consider the facts:

1. In 1998, Sandusky was investigated by the University police department, who recorded a phone call between Sandusky and his victim's mother in which Sandusky admitted culpability and said he wished he were dead.  The investigation was referred to the local district attorney, who declined to prosecute the case.

2.  In 2002, Sandusky wasn't even an employee of Penn State when new allegations surfaced.  He was the head of his own charity, and used Penn State facilities to run football camps.  When the new allegations were made, Joe Paterno reported them to his immediate supervisor and banned Sandusky from the Penn State football building.

3. Jerry Sandusky hasn't been convicted of a single crime.  Despite that fact, Joe Paterno lost his job over the alleged criminal acts of another man who wasn't even his employee at the time those alleged acts took place.

Today, Joe Paterno's legacy, six decades in the making, is in tatters because the media descended upon him like a pack of wolves even though the acts in question were not committed by Joe Paterno, and even though Joe Paterno and Penn State had investigated Sandusky and referred their findings to the local district attorney in 1998.  Whatever you want to say about Joe Paterno, the fact of the matter is that Mike McQueary, then the graduate assistant who allegedly saw Sandusky sodomizing a ten year old, did not make direct allegations to the police when he saw a senior citizen anally raping a ten year old boy in the showers.  He didn't dial 911.  There's no evidence that he even drove the ten year old boy to the hospital to be examined by doctors.  He didn't notify the boy's parents.

Joe Paterno is being raked over the coals because he's Joe Paterno.  There is a schadenfreude-like quality to the media coverage, with writers and pundits savoring the fact that they were able to bring down the all-time leader in college football coach wins, even though the man in question didn't do anything wrong.  It was important to send a message, they say.  No matter who you are, no matter your actual guilt, your position and good reputation cannot immunize you from culpability for acts that you didn't even commit.  If we say that you are guilty on some level, you are in fact guilty and you will be brought down.

It is a matter of disputed fact as to whether or not Mike McQueary told Joe Paterno exactly what happened.  You wouldn't know that by the media's coverage.  As it stands, everyone believes that Mike McQueary walked into Joe Paterno's home and told him that he had directly witnessed Jerry Sandusky anally raping a ten year old.  No one questions the credibility of a man who witnessed such an act and then refrained from running to the nearest phone and dialing 911.  No one disputes the idea that it strains credulity to believe the official version of events contained in the grand jury's presentment, which is that Mike McQueary walked in on this activity in the showers and then waited until the next day to report the allegations to Joe Paterno.  It strains credulity to believe that Paterno heard of an anal rape and waited until Sunday to report the matter to his supervisor.

Yet this is what we are expected to believe by a media hell-bent on holding the biggest name accountable for an act that somebody else allegedly committed.  Mike McQueary didn't try to stop the rape when he walked into the locker room and saw what was going on in the showers.  He got up and left a ten year old boy to be raped by Sandusky in the showers.  Yet Mike McQueary isn't facing any criminal charges whatsoever.  He hasn't been fired.  He hasn't been forced into a resignation.  Mike McQueary isn't Joe Paterno.  He doesn't have the status, the unblemished record, the sterling short, there isn't anything there for the media to tear apart.

Joe Paterno is a man who may or may not have heard about an anal rape.  Mike McQueary is, by his own admission to the grand jury, a man who saw a ten year old being raped by a senior citizen and he did nothing to stop it.  He didn't phone the police.  He didn't knock Jerry Sandusky off of the ten year old.  He left that ten year old boy alone in the showers with Sandusky.  He went home to phone his father rather than the police.

Communitarian outrage, the scourge of our time, has claimed yet another victim.  We take umbrage vicariously at the mere allegation of impropriety, so much so that we cannot even wait for due process to sort out what actually happened before we demand punishment.  It is illogical.  It is uncivil.  It is immoral.  And stoking it all the way to the unfortunate and untimely end of Joe Paterno's career was the media, whose members did not give a damn if their report slanted the truth or defamed the name and legacy of a man with over six decades of accomplishments defined by their integrity.

Let us pretend that Joe Paterno had in fact heard of a report of a sexual abuse.  Let us pretend that the report was of an anal rape involving a ten year old and a former member of his staff.  And let us assume that Joe Paterno heard this in his home one Saturday morning from a graduate assistant who by his own admission did nothing to stop the assault, and who didn't even bother to call the police the night before when the assault took place.  How much credibility would you assign to such an implausible story if you were Joe Paterno?  You have a man's life and freedom at stake on the mere word of a graduate assistant who allegedly saw a sexual assault but didn't feel compelled to call the police or do anything to protect a ten year old boy from a continued assault.

It simply doesn't make sense to believe this story.  The truth is often simple enough; the convoluted story we would have to believe in order to believe that Joe Paterno was guilty is simply beyond complicated. Too complicated, in fact, to be taken with anything other than an attitude of skepticism.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Why Joe Paterno Shouldn't Resign

The news that Jerry Sandusky, former defensive coordinator for Penn State's football team, had been arrested on charges relating to the alleged sexual abuse of eight young boys, was a shock to anyone who watched college football.  However, Sandusky has yet to be convicted of a single crime.  The prosecution in the case has predictably decided to try the case in the media, pointing the finger at Penn State officials ranging from Penn State's Vice President Gary Schultz and Athletic Director Tim Curley for their failure to report what they knew about Sandusky and for allegedly perjuring themselves before a grand jury. 

The question is obvious: how did they know?  Schultz and Curley never directly observed Sandusky abusing a single young boy, they just heard and purportedly investigated secondhand allegations against Sandusky. The allegations were reported to the police, only the university police investigated. If this is truly what happened, then the duty to report was fulfilled. Many universities have police departments possessed with the same powers as any municipal police department, and this is the case with the Penn State Police Department, as noted on their website:

"The University Police is governed by a state statute that gives our officers the same authority as municipal police officers."

 The police conducted a sting operation via a telephone call in which Sandusky was confronted by the mother of one of his accusers, and Sandusky admitted guilt for his actions and said he wished that he were dead.  The local District Attorney declined to bring charges despite the phone call recording and the evidence turned up by the investigation. 

None of this is Joe Paterno's fault.  He couldn't unilaterally fire Jerry Sandusky over allegations that the District Attorney didn't see fit to bring charges over without opening Penn State to liability for wrongful termination.  There isn't one shred of evidence that Jerry Sandusky's acts weren't investigated, reported, and known to law enforcement.  The problem isn't Penn State.  If you have an issue, the issue ought to be with the local District Attorney who did nothing to prosecute and convict Jerry Sandusky back in 1998. 

In 2002, a graduate assistant named Mike McQueary allegedly saw Sandusky orally raping a ten year old in the showers and reported the incident to Paterno, who in turn reported it to Athletic Director Tim Curley.  After a conference between the three men, Sandusky was banned from bringing children into the football building.  Whether or not the 2002 incident was reported is the central issue in the current scandal. 

However, Joe Paterno wasn't obligated to do anything other than what he did.  He reported the allegation through the proper channels to his boss, fully cognizant of the past allegations and the fact that a district attorney had refused to file charges.  His boss failed to report the 2002 allegations to the university police. 

To denigrate Joe Paterno in this context is worse than defamatory: it threatens to destroy a lifetime of good works and the reputation of a man who never raped a child or violated the law insofar as the sexual assault in question was concerned.  To hear the media tell it, Sandusky was never reported for any of his prior assaults.  The Penn State administration simply let it all ride.  The facts simply don't bear this out. 

Sandusky was investigated by the police over the initial allegations in 1998.  He wasn't charged.  This isn't because of Joe Paterno or the Penn State administration; instead, it's because the district attorney decided not to bring charges or seek a conviction.  Joe Paterno isn't a policeman.  He isn't a detective.  He's a football coach who has a record of winning the right way, and whose record with respect to the 1998 allegations is beyond reproach.  When Sandusky was accused of similar acts in 2002, Joe Paterno banned him from bringing children into the football building, which was about as much as Joe Paterno could legally do. 

Imagine if Joe Paterno had stood before a bank of microphones and announced that Jerry Sandusky had been accused on another occasion of abusing children sexually.  Paterno would have opened himself up to any number of liabilities in a civil sense, and he would have done the same for Penn State.  The frustrating thing about dealing with child abuse allegations is this: your hands are tied. An allegation isn't tantamount to a conviction.  Anyone who has ever worked in a bureaucracy knows that going outside of that bureaucracy and its byzantine processes in order to get out what may or may not be true is grounds for termination and possible civil liability. 

And for those who read this and recoil in self-righteous umbrage, remember this: Jerry Sandusky has never been convicted of a single crime, including the crimes he has been accused of over the past week.  In America, we have a presumption of innocence for criminal defendants, and while prosecutors may be eager to destroy that presumption by leaking information to the media, the fact remains that Jerry Sandusky hasn't been found guilty of anything, and Joe Paterno was never under any legal, moral, or ethical obligation to act as though Sandusky was guilty. 

Joe Paterno shouldn't resign. He didn't do anything wrong.