The Most Important Thing Was Sandusky Comment Count

Brian January 23rd, 2012 at 5:18 PM


You can't throw a rock today without hitting a piece on Joe Paterno, and I'll add my bit. I've read a half-dozen of them and feel myself drawn to the portions that focus on his ignoble demise at the hands of a long-overdue grand jury investigation into Jerry Sandusky. The ones that skip it entirely, as many PSU-based POVs do, or attempt to put it "in perspective" seem to be succumbing to the same disease that felled everyone when Nixon died and people scrambled for good things to say about him other than "he's dead."

Paterno is not Nixon, obviously. Nixon is the most obvious public funeral held in which ill things were not spoken of the dead due to social taboo, rather than reason. I dislike that natural impulse to whitewash. When Christopher Hitchens died I spent a lot of time reading his withering obituaries just to watch him stick the knife in and twist. If that makes me ruthless, okay.

I just can't get over how it all came crashing down. Not only did Paterno and the culture he created shelter Sandusky, Paterno did not seem to feel remorse for half a second. Maybe this is just an addled old man speaking but it is appalling that this came out of his mouth at the impromptu pep rally at his home in the immediate aftermath of the grand jury's testimony:

The kids that were victims or whatever they want to say, I think we all ought to say a prayer for them. Tough life, when people do certain things to you. Anyway, you’ve been great. Everything’s great, all right.

Virtually the entire media edited Paterno's statement into a less awful version because their sense of propriety could not grasp the words that had actually come out of his mouth. This was Joe Paterno. He couldn't have said that. He shouldn't have said anything. He should have been in his house crying to his wife, finally realizing the monstrous consequences of his inaction.

Instead he seemed to think of himself as a victim. A lot of people find ways to blame themselves for massive tragedies they are not responsible for. Paterno was oblivious to his role to the end. Maybe that's forgivable to some people who look at the donations and the football coaching and the Great Experiment. Not me. I have great respect for Chris Grovich of Black Shoe Diaries but I can't read this

Behind Joe Paterno's Beaver Stadium statue are the words, "Educator, Coach, Humanitarian." They really could have been arranged in any order.

…without inserting "child rape enabler" in any order. That phrase overwhelms the rest. If he did lead a program that strove to prove it was capable of operating at a higher plane that just makes it worse. He was held up—he held himself up—as a man who could achieve success on and off the field in a way that others could not.

Maybe any one of us would have done the same thing if confronted by the terrible truth about a long-time friend. Maybe 90% of people would not have had the courage to blow up a reputation so carefully crafted over such a long period. Maybe Joe Paterno was just being human.

That's not enough when you have a statue. Paterno wasn't supposed to be human, he was supposed to be Joe Paterno. He wasn't and now he never was. He had over a decade to do something about Sandusky and did not. That is no mistake, or misjudgment, or error. It is immensely sad, but in the end Paterno failed his charge more spectacularly than a man who dared less would have. You can call him Icarus if you want; I'm not inclined to give him that benefit of the doubt. The costs were not worth the attempt.

The statue is Joe Paterno now. The man is dead. Hopefully the idea behind the statue can help people be better than the man turned out to be.


[Editor's note: Orson and I both go for the statue conceit. We've seen people crying or overturning news vans in its vicinity it every 30 seconds over the past few months, so maybe not a huge surprise.]



January 23rd, 2012 at 5:48 PM ^

The Paterno and Nixon comparison is great.  Both had blind spots that are almost hard to wrap your mind around. 

It can't be illegal if the president does it. 

Excuse me? 

The kids that were victims or whatever they want to say...Everything’s great, all right./ know   

I know you just alluded to the kids having tough lives, but no, everything is not great.  You apparently allowed several children to be raped/molested over the course of several years.  That is a f*cking travesty, you absolute twat. 

Edit: For the people who labeled this "Flaimebait," please note that I meant it to be much, much harsher.  I'm tired, so you'll have to forgive me. 



January 24th, 2012 at 6:25 AM ^

Random 5 not in order of comparable or worse on the mistake scale to covering up a break in during an election that you would have won anyways:

1) Andrew Jackson - Mr. the supreme court has made its ruling now let them try to enforce it -- as the Cherokee or forcefully and illegally extracted from their land.  Broke the constitutional rule of law not just cost people lives.

2) FDR - internment of Japanese Americans (and some German/Itlaian born Americans) during WWII without evidence is a shame.

3) Woodrow Wilson - at a time when ~75 blacks were getting lynched a year, he made statements and wrote books supporting the KKK as a noble group that kept order in the south and prevented chaos from blacks no longer being slaves.  He even had a private screening of the pro-KKK movie The Birth of a Nation in the White House (which also quoted him in the movie).

4) George W. Bush - created an environment where only evidence for the foregone conclusion would be looked at and evidence to the contrary dismissed as we invaded Iraq.  People died.

5) James Buchanan - sat on his hands while the country fell apart around him.  making his job even tougher for Lincoln....

6) Lincoln, although a great president overall, imprisoned thousands of people without due process or accusing them of crimes to try to win the Civil War.

7) LBJ - knowingly lied about the Gulf of Tonkin incident to escalate the Vietnam War...lot's of deaths.  He is on tape saying that he doesn't think the 2nd Gulf of Tonkin incident happened, but that he can sure use it!

8) John Adams - reluctantly against his conscience passed the Alien and Sedition Act so that Irish and French immigrants could not vote for 14 years (the real reason is they tended to vote for the opposite party) and so that the government could fine or imprison anyone who criticized the government (party in power).

I have to go to work.  But I can elaborate on this more later.


January 24th, 2012 at 7:05 AM ^

as a student of history and politics, you have covered some very important moments in US History.  I agree that Nixon's situation was attenuated by the fact that Watergate was the first real political news Investigation for the television age.

Nixon's legacy will improve as time goes on.  He was the first to resign.  Clinton was the first to be impeached.  You could have listed all 43 Presidents and had something to say about themthat were horrific.  Presidents are human too.


January 23rd, 2012 at 5:30 PM ^

have tried to convince me that his story is not clouded. I have yet to have a single person speak to me after I have reminded them that regardless of the early events, he allowed Sandusky to remain. The Joe Paterno people want to remember would have gone berserk at the thought of Sandusky entering his facility, let alone his locker room. I feel sorry for former players, alums, and especially his family, but there it is.


January 23rd, 2012 at 6:40 PM ^

Certain sports commentators commented "oh, it was just 12 weeks of a man's life, his body of work was building an institution free of NCAA scandal, he won with honor, was a molder of men, etc etc".

12 weeks? No pal, it was over 10 years that Joe knew about Sandusky. But hey, 'cause we as a society will accept the crimes of the powerful yet persecute the misdemeanors of the weak, Joe Pa is glorifed.

Brian, I sometimes disagree with you but this was a very thoughtful piece. JoePa was a hypocritical man who is now settling up with God.


January 23rd, 2012 at 5:34 PM ^

I don't like saying bad things about dead people, especially when we're pointing out the sins of others, because we all sin.

However, I think what you did, Brian, is powerful because it humanizes an iconic figure. We, as humans, have a tendency to romanticize our images of previous humans, especially ones that we admire. Stories about Paterno's life need to epict his whole life.

While I think it's fair to dedicate most of your memory of JoePa to what he did for PSU and for college football, it would be foolish to forget about this scandal. 

We all know about JoePa's public contributions to his program and college athletics as a whole. But it was what he didn't do in private that will humanize him forever.

And that's OK. After all, he was human.


January 23rd, 2012 at 5:41 PM ^

I'm fine with "being human" if we're talking about an 18 year old getting busted with beer  or cheating on your girl/boyfriend or smoking two packs of cigarettes a day (not that I recommend any of this), but doing nothing when you are the de facto mayor of a town so that children are raped is not just "being human."  That's a huge, sociopath-esque flaw that makes a man far less than your typically imperfect mortal. 


January 23rd, 2012 at 5:51 PM ^

My wife is a public school employee and she explained to me that if she had first hand knowledge of children being abused by their parents, a faculty member, anybody, she's obligated BY LAW to report it to her superiors and the authorities.  Joe Paterno is a public school employee, wielding far more power and influence than my wife, but the same rules apply to him as to her.  He committed a crime, whether PSU faithful want to admit it or not.


January 23rd, 2012 at 6:01 PM ^

Actually, Pennsylvania doesn't have that law that requires public employees to disclose these types of activities. I remember the DA bringing that point up.

Furthermore, even if he were required by law, I'm not defending his actions or anything. I'm just saying that everyone's obituary can be a mix of good and bad depending on what other people know about our sins.


January 23rd, 2012 at 6:29 PM ^

it's enabling a child rapist. Calling that bad is a huge disservice to the word. It's horrible. Everyone's obituary doesn't have that degree of "bad" in it. You are missing the point by thinking there are good or bad things people do. There are many levels of good and bad.


January 23rd, 2012 at 5:59 PM ^

Uh, he did report it, both to a person who was (in title anyway) his boss and a person who was the head of the police force in State College. The Pennsylvania Attorney General seems to disagree with your legal analysis. I'm not defending Paterno in general, but let's at least get facts correct.


January 23rd, 2012 at 6:06 PM ^

Actually, his superiors did not report to the police, and neither did he. But he was not required to. He fulfilled his legal obligation when he told his superiors about the conduct. The Attorney General said that JoePa should have had a MORAL obligation to do more than he was legally required to do. 


January 23rd, 2012 at 6:30 PM ^

This is something people seem to ignore: Gary Shultz was the head of the campus police. If you go to the head of the police department, how did you not inform the police? Penn State (well, State College technically) is its own municipality, with its own police department, and Joe Paterno took it directly to the head of that police department.

Again, I'm not defending the guy, I think he made alot of egregious, should-be-fired-for decisions in his handling of everything, but I don't think a discussion of the issue is well-served with fact-ignoring hyperbole.


January 23rd, 2012 at 6:13 PM ^

They're bad enough.  As a public school employee in PA Paterno is required to report suspected abuse to his immediate superiors, not the police.  Paterno did that.  Which is why he wasn't charged with anything.  That says nothing of the moral rectitude of his actions.  He did what was legally required and most of us agree that was not enough. 

Also, Brian's characterization of Sandusky and Paterno as friends is flat out wrong.  Sandusky hated Paterno for not allowing him a chance at the head job in 1998 when Paterno essentially fired him for working too much with the Second Mile and not enough on PSU football.  

Doesn't change the sitution; Paterno tacitly enabled a child molester, but I don't think there is any need to pile on with inaccurate information.

Run Up The Score

January 23rd, 2012 at 8:09 PM ^

"Staff members of public or private agencies, institutions and facilities" ... shall immediately notify the person in charge of the institution, school, facility or agency or the designated agent of the person in charge when they have reasonable cause to suspect on the basis of their professional or other training or experience, that a child coming before them in their professional or official capacity is a victim of child abuse.


Paterno notified the athletic director and the bureaurocrat who was in charge of the campus police. 

Could he have put a call into the State Police when it appeared that an investigation was going nowhere?  Yeah.  That's where my problem with Paterno lies.



January 24th, 2012 at 10:44 AM ^

This is also where my problem with Paterno lies. Please keep in mind that many of the saner PSU fans have been driven underground by the howls of the mob.

But please remember that of all the people who are in big trouble in this case, he did the most right (while still not enough). Spanier should have been fired out of a cannon; Schultz and Curley will hopefully go to jail for a little while at least; and Sandusky - well, he's the rabid dog who should have never been left out in the first place and hopefully never will be again.


January 23rd, 2012 at 5:56 PM ^

There's no denying this is a big mistake on JoePa's part, and we certainly expected him to do more. My point was that even this guy who, as you put it was the "de facto mayor of a town" and had a statue built of him makes mistakes--and a big one at that. 

Anyone, at any time, and at any age, is capable of sinning. We can only hope that our own sins are small ones.

STW P. Brabbs

January 23rd, 2012 at 6:47 PM ^

Ive been so fucking exasperated by all of the trite 'he was human' and 'let he without sin' bullshit that's sprung up lately. Both are at best cliches used to cover up the fact that some people cannot dislodge the heroic image that's been lodged in their heads about the man (interestingly, many dismiss Paterno's role in the scandal as a media construction, while ignoring the notion that his saintly reputation was every bit as much so.) At worst, they are indications of a pure moral relativism.

I'm not perfect. I can be a real asshole sometimes. There are things I've done that I'm not proud of, and there will be more. But I've never done anything close to knowingly sheltering a child rapist for close to a decade. So I'm casting a stone. And I'll acknowledge that all humans are prone to weakness and error, maybe even evil in the pursuit of self-interest. But I'm not going to choose to interpret that to mean that no one should be blamed for their actions.


January 24th, 2012 at 10:00 AM ^

has been blamed, and he will continue to be blamed.  His legacy is eternally tarnished and he will never be thought of again the way that he was before.  Joe Paterno failed immeasurably in the biggest test of his life.  He was a good man who was placed in a horrible situation by the demonic acts of another person, and he failed to act as he should have and as both he and everybody who admired him wished that he would have.  What transpired with Jerry Sandusky killed Joe Paterno, figuratively and I believe quite literally.  What he said in the statement outside his house to the gatherers was what one says when there is nothing to say.  His actions (inactions) were indefensible, he had neither the energy nor the material to defend himself, and he said what ever he could to get him and his wife inside before the situation deteriorated into something that he could not control. 

Joe Paterno was at one time all powerful and powerless.  He, at 85, was a hollow leader, hanging on for dear life because he was going to die as soon as he stopped, for reasons that are now quite clear.  I have watched and seen Joe Paterno and how he conducts himself and can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jerry Sandusky robbed him of his soul along with so many others.  Paterno made a huge mistake, a life defining mistake, and he had to take it with him into his death.  There is no need to pile on this man in his death.


January 24th, 2012 at 10:04 AM ^

People should know that they won't be let off the hook when they do what he did just because "we're all human."  The stakes need to be high. 

Note: Yes, I realize that posting on a board doesn't do much, but it's better than nothing, and most of us aren't newspaper columnists. 


January 23rd, 2012 at 5:36 PM ^

he DID know and did relatively nothing, then  he said, "Tough life, when people do certain things to you. Anyway..." and then later we find out that he told an administrator at PSU that he, not they would handle ALL the discipline for his football players.  In other words, he proclaimed himself judge, jury and non-executionor.  And when the AD and others tried to get him to retire he threw them out of his house.

No disrespect intended, but Paterno was the dictator of that university for a long time.  He ran the school, the football program and seemingly the town and the media.  In the end, he will be teflon and no one will attempt to blame him for what has gone on.  He didn't cause it, be he certainly enabled it and allowed it to continue.  In my book, that makes him just as guilty.

Paterno is absolute proof why no football coach of any program should be allowed to be there more than 20 years.  They get too entrenched and too powerful and no one can or will stand up to them even when it is needed.  Those poor children suffered and continue to suffer needlessly because no one did anything, most of the ONE person who could have and should have.  Yet, he is still deified in that town and on that campus.

Paterno didn't make a mistake, he made a grave error and then compounded it with his arrogance and "omnipotence".  He failed those children, he failed his players adn the university.  The example he truly set is not one to aspire to.  All the $$$ he donated and the good he brought to PSU is HUGELY overshadowed by what he didn't do and what all those poor children suffered through then and probably still do today.

The sad part here is not that Paterno is dead, the sad part is he did NOTHING when he could have done everything!


January 23rd, 2012 at 5:38 PM ^

This whole story is depressing and sad!  I will never be able to think about Joe Paterno or Penn State without thinking of Sandusky first football second. Did Joe Paterno accomplish a lot of good in his life? Yes he did. But in the end he also allowed a horrible crime to be covered up and continue.  The people that try to gloss over the last part in favor of the first are to wrapped up in sports for there own good.


January 23rd, 2012 at 5:46 PM ^

For all the good Paterno did in his life, when the chips were down, when he had a chance to do the most significant act of good in his life, he put the image of his school and his reputation ahead of the welfare of some young boys.  The same presence and gravitas that allowed him to turn Penn State into the institution it is today could of easily forced the PSU administration to handle the Sandusky affair in the proper way.  Instead, he choose to bury his head in the sand and pass the buck.  You don't get to sweep that under the rug.  Sorry.  He's forever tarnished.  Some mistakes cost you.

STW P. Brabbs

January 23rd, 2012 at 6:52 PM ^

But I don't think the analogy is quite right. The ploughman represents the everyday, powerless man - I've never interpreted that painting to criticize his lack of attention to Icarus, but rather to point out that the triumphs and foibles of the mighty do not necessarily matter as much to pedestrian folks as much as might be imagined. Besides, it's not as though the ploughman had known about the dangers of high-altitude winged flight for years without bothering to mention it to his colleague Icarus.

Regardless, Paterno was no mere ploughman at Penn State. His inattention to tragedy is multiplied greatly by his stature at the University.


January 23rd, 2012 at 8:56 PM ^

agreed that the analogy isnt quite perfect; its just what came to mind


not sure i agree completley with your statement about the "triumphs and foibles of the mighty;" the poem is "about suffering," about a "disaster," "something quite amazing" - i dont see an intention to minimize any of that - it would be odd to use 2 separate christ references to make that point. if anything, the poem is meant more to sympathize with icarus - to show that even his dramatic suffering generally gets ignored - people are preoccupied with their own lives. even icarus and christ suffer alone


January 23rd, 2012 at 5:47 PM ^

It's over.

Not for the victims, but for the masses, it is over.  Good bye or good riddance, I'm just glad that when this story dies that I won't have to hear about child rape every time I turn on the news.  Yeah, that's right; if I don't hear about it then it doesn't exist.  I just want to go back to my happy little life of denial.

It sucks when bad people ruin sports.



January 23rd, 2012 at 5:47 PM ^

He did some good things, some noble things, but he wasn't brave when it mattered.

Donating to the university was a nice gesture that put him above your typical Wall Street fund manager, but gosh, think of what I'm saying -- that's not much.  Now, I know plenty of people who aren't qualified to judge JoePa's cowardice and denial, but when I'm finding myself comparing JoePa to cowards and liars to properly size up his morality, my appreciation for his accomplishments winds up being extremely measured.

JoePa was a skilled coach and a "nice guy", but not much more than that.  It's not like he put his life or career at risk.  You want a profile in courage, read up on Chiune Sugihara.

My blog has a more wordy take on the matter.


January 23rd, 2012 at 5:48 PM ^

"Paterno did not seem to feel remorse for half a second"

That is a bit unfair. You do not know what he felt/thought, that is, unless you were able to get inside Patterno's mind.

"Paterno wasn't supposed to be human, he was supposed to be Joe Paterno."

Umm, newsflash, he was human. Yes he was an iconic coach but he was human. To try to turn him into some messiah-God-like entity is idiotic. He was human. He made a very grave error in judgment. Should he have done more in light of what he was told by the assistant? Definitely!!! Should he have confronted Sandusky? Yes. Should he have followed up with the higher ups as to what was happening in regard to Sandusky? Yes. Did he have a greater responsibility because he was an icon? Arguably, yes. He did go up the chain of command but did not follow up, did not confront Sandusky, etc. etc. As someone of authority on the campus, his lack of pro-active behavior was a grave mistake.

That being said, was he some kind of a fallen angel, a terrible being? No. He was a human being who made a grave mistake, but I take issue with people (who come off as holier than thou) who put Paterno on a pedestal, paint him as this God-like entity, only bring him down as some sort of "monster". 


January 23rd, 2012 at 6:02 PM ^

who thinks along those lines. He was a human being, period.

That is a problem with our culture. We tend to idolize celebrities. We are mesmerized by them. We put them on these pedestals. We turn a football coach into a God, a pop singer into God, etc. etc. In our eyes, they are infalible. But when something goes down, we are also the first to get on the "OMG, how horrible they are" bandwagon. 


January 23rd, 2012 at 6:13 PM ^

I'm not sure that this could have happened if Paterno hadn't first become so powerful in a situation with such a lack of transparency and checks/balances.  Where we seem to be disconnecting is on the notion that one needed to think of Paterno as a god to have expected more from him when confronted with what McQueary had to say.  He needn't  have been a god to react appropriately. 


January 23rd, 2012 at 6:23 PM ^

with the (alleged) assurance from the higher ups that the matter would be investigated by the university and (assuming based on the gravity of the allegation) the police. As I noted in another post, I do not know what he was told by the higher-ups. Perhaps he, naively, thought that an investigation took place and nothing came of it. Should he have continued to follow up with the higher ups and press them about it? Yes. He did not. In hindsight, this was a great error in his judgment but, as I said before, he is human.  


January 23rd, 2012 at 6:30 PM ^

I'm not trying to be sarcastic when I say this:  I assume you wouldn't say of Idi Amin, "Well, he was human, and no one likes to have his power/privilege questioned."   Where, then, does "human" (I assume you mean "not very morally culpable") error end and something worse begin? 

Please note:  Yes, I realize that Joe Paterno is not Idi Amin. 


January 23rd, 2012 at 6:44 PM ^

who oversaw the murder of tens of thousands of people.

As far as Joe Pa, look he should have been more pro-active about it. I agree but he was now for whatever reason. He did report it, both to his boss and to Shultz, who was the head of the police force. He reported to both his superior, as obligated, and to the head of the police force. From what I understand, he was assured that they would look into the matter. When the head of the police force tells you that the matter will be looked into, you assume that the police will investigate the matter and if anything should be found it would be handled by the legal authorities. As someone pointed out, Shultz was the head of the campus police. Penn State is its own municipality, with its own police department, and Joe Paterno took it directly to the head of that police department.

Should Joe have been more persistent and followed-up? Given that he was Joe Pa, one can argue that the answer is without a doubt yes. I do not know why he did not. Perhaps he thought that an investigation was conducted and nothing happened. I do not know. In hindsight (knowing what we know) he should have been more persistent with the chief of police, with the President, but he was not. He made a grave mistake and his legacy as an individual, as a person, is tarnished, but in the end that is all he was, a human being susceptible to making mistakes, even grave ones.


January 23rd, 2012 at 6:49 PM ^

Given that he was Joe Pa, one can argue that the answer is yes. I do not know why he did not. Perhaps he thought that an investigation was conducted and nothing happened. I do not know. In hindsight (knowing what we know) he should have been more persistent with the chief of police, with the President, but he was not. "

You're missing something big about Joe Paterno: He did whatever he wanted at PSU.  No one was bigger than him.  He threatened to stop fundraising for PSU if they didn't fire an administrator whom he thought was meddling too much in the discipline of his players, he basically told PSU to go to hell when they wanted to talk to him about his retirement in 2003, he would literally direct traffic in Happy Valley if he thought the situation called for it.  Yet he watched for the better part of ten years while nothing was done even though someone he had every reason to believe was a rapist of children continued to spend countless hours with children and even bring them to PSU facilities...You don't get to be the alpha in a community but then shrink away like a child when something makes you uncomfortable.  You either ante up or step down because you're not fit for your position.