What Joe Paterno is teaching us

I’ve written before in the In Box about the bizarre behavior that people in authority exhibit when confronted with colleagues suspected of sexually assaulting children.

It’s not limited to the Roman Catholic church, or religious organizations in general.  It’s not the Boy Scouts.  Naturally, predators can hide in any organization — though obviously programs and organizations that serve young children are most vulnerable.

Now the football program run by legendary coach Joe Paterno at Penn State faces scrutiny, following revelations that a top defensive coordinator allegedly sexually assaulted young boys over a period of years.

What’s more, it appears now that a wide array of officials at Penn State knew about the suspicions.  Paterno knew.  And no one called the cops.

This from CNN.

Paterno, a longtime coach with a largely spotless record, is under pressure because of his response to allegations brought to him in 2002 by a graduate assistant who said he had seen retired defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulting a young boy in the shower at the campus football complex.

Paterno reported the allegations to his boss, and Pennsylvania’s attorney general said it appeared that the coach had met his obligations under state law. Still, some critics have said that he should have reported the suspected abuse to police.

Well..duh.  In this case, Paterno may be legally in the clear.  But morally?  The bottom line is that when you know of serious concerns about children being sexually abused, there is no gray zone.

There are no ambiguities.  Joe Paterno was and is a powerful man, perhaps the most powerful man at Penn State.  He should have made the call or insisted that someone else make it.

It’s important to note that calling the cops doesn’t mean smearing someone, or automatically convicting them of a crime. Some people suspected of this vile behavior will turn out to be perfectly innocent.

All it means when you bring in the police is that a complicated and dangerous situation is turned over to the experts who know how to handle it professionally, while protecting potentially vulnerable kids.

This isn’t the sort of thing that organizations are equipped to handle internally, even when they operate from the very best of intentions.

Joe Paterno is a legendary coach.  He’s taught a lot of people a lot of good and honorable things over the years.

Maybe the silver lining of this mess is that his story will finally convince other coaches, administrators, teachers, clergy, volunteers and parents that this isn’t rocket science.

If you suspect, even slightly, that someone is molesting or abusing a young person, call 911.

8 Comments on “What Joe Paterno is teaching us”

  1. BRFVolpe says:

    Joe Paterno is a god and Nittany Lion football is sacrosanct in Happy Valley. Were the abuses reported to the police, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s finally found that law enforcement and even child protective were part of the cover-up.

  2. newton says:

    What a way for Paterno to go out, after such a career. As you say, it will help convince others what they must do under similar circumstances. Or, rather, it will a little bit.

  3. Pete Klein says:

    The idea of sexual predators hiding within an “organization” would be accurate if you were to include families as an organization.
    More children and young people are probably sexually assaulted by members of their own family and friends of the family.
    I’m not suggesting such behavior should be tolerated or “covered up.” I’m only saying human nature tends to cause us to be less inclined to condemn “one of our own.”

  4. Paul says:

    To not do everything to protect a small child in a situation like this should be a crime. True you can’t legislate morality but come on… Pathetic.

  5. betty says:

    And so when a potus receives oral sex from an intern we should…… Reelect him of course.

  6. jeff says:

    I have not read that the football program was under scrutiny but some university management people are accused or wrongdoing in handling the issue. I don’t disagree Paterno could have done more. One of the two University officials who are charged with not reporting was in charge of the University Police as one of his duties-was he trying to “protect” the school? The Pennsylvania State Police do not go on campus unless invited. This was not a job for campus police- even if they were told. The campus is about the size of the town of Canton, NY. and the adjoining town of State College has its own police.

    But here is a different aspect of this kind of event and the desire of some to protect the organization. I don’t see it as much on Paterno’s shoulders as the University management culture. I graduated from that school and was raised in its shadow in an adjoining school district. Yes, Paterno is regarded highly. The stadium is 60% larger than when I went there. More importantly the University management is a bit like a closed society. Hard to get a look at its budget. It is the most expensive school( as far as tuition goes) that gets state funding. It blocked intrastate highway extensions for three decades until it got its way to locate roads to suit itself. Its friends successfully contrived to move the county hospital 10 miles to a less centrally located site to potentially establish a teaching hospital on campus. Look at the aerial view above the campus and town out in a 10 mile circle and consider the farmland destroyed so the highways could dump people easily into campus. There is an alumni retirement community they are developing in the area besides two hotels on campus and a conference center It claims that due to its remote location over three hours from Pittsburgh and four hours from Philadelphia it needs these ammenities to serve the audiences they want to draw to campus for seminars and conferences etc. Certain students get monthly stipends to sustain racial diversity on its main campus that is “equally inconvenient from everywhere.”

    Under the cover of being a non-profit land grant school (the Ag College) , Penn State is a big business– mega business– that like all universities should be publically audited. It has over 20 branches which help it feed its alumni association. Ra Ra I have not joined.

    So Paterno isn’t the perp, he did something right , not what everybody else thinks he should have done. It is a crummy way to exit but the right thing to do. I suggest focusing on the system as well because I don’t think the school (or any school) should have the power it has been allowed to have. Old Main needs to be occupied.

  7. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I have really tried to avoid this story but I guess it is time to point out some hypocrisies.

    If Muslims have a terrorism problem then it must be said that Catholics have a child molestation problem.

    There have been a number of discussions of political violence on this blog but it seems that sports violence is a far worse danger in our society.

    And who defends a child molester protector by violent action? What are these students learning?

  8. jeff says:

    The district attorney investigating the incident of 2002 disappeared in April of 2005. Car was found 45-50 miles from home, laptop gone too. No body has been found. His disappearance may not be related to this sitiuation but it could be. Deeper on the history of the perpetrator was the fact that he was the expected successor to Paterno but retired in 1998 his mid-50’s. Was his early retirement related to earlier discoveries?

    Old Main needs to occupied by those who will reveal the financial information and workings of the school. Same goes for any school that is not an open book. The criminal actions will be investigated far too late. But are the firings a smokescreen to avoid broader investigation?

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