Forum

Penn State exploited Paterno as scapegoat

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On Nov. 9, 2011, Pennsylvania State University terminated Joe Paterno’s 46-year career as head coach of its football program for neglecting to report child molestation and sexual assault allegations against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky to the police. While the media lauded the Board of Trustees’ decision, I believe it only served to use Paterno as a scapegoat.

Although Paterno did not report the allegations to the police directly, he did report them to the authorities of the university, as was required by his job and by the law — specifically to Tim Curley, the athletic director, and Gary Schultz, the administrator in charge of the University Police. It was then Curley, Schultz, and Graham Spanier, the president of Penn State, who proceeded to conceal the accusations. By reporting to Schultz, Paterno actually fulfilled his legal obligations and thus in no way attempted to cover up Sandusky’s crimes. He just did nothing when the Penn State administration concealed them.

Of course, Paterno’s inaction was also morally wrong, but those who readily threw him under the bus because of his lack of action hold him to an unrealistic moral standard. Consider this: Paterno has known Sandusky for 31 years and, despite that, reported him to authorities who should have notified the police, but did not. Although he should have pursued the allegations until they reached the right people, that is an exceedingly difficult thing to do — especially when the immediate responsibility no longer fell on Paterno’s shoulders.

Moreover, the scandal was the direct result of the Penn State administration putting its image and prestige over what is right. It reinforced this fact by firing Paterno over the phone after he already publicly declared he would retire at the end of the year. Attorney Ben Andreozzi summed it up nicely by saying, “the school ... elected to do what it felt was in its best interest at the time” which was “what put the school in this position in the first place.”

What makes matters worse is the fact that the media has enabled all of this to occur. The media has gotten the entire nation to focus on Joe Paterno. Not Sandusky. Not Curley, Schultz, or Spanier. Not even the victims. The media has relentlessly pursued Joe Paterno, a high-profile figure who had limited involvement. In fact, the media has vilified Paterno to such an extent that football Hall of Famer Franco Harris was fired from his publicity job simply for expressing support for Paterno. Likewise, the media’s obsessive focus on Paterno obscured the administration’s involvement in the scandal, allowing them to publicly crucify the coach.

Paterno ultimately became a victim of the same system that caused the scandal to occur in the first place — a system that values the prestige of a football program over doing what is right. Last week, a USA Today poll revealed that only 38 percent of Pennsylvanians believed that Paterno should not have been fired while 61 percent still view Penn State with a favorable opinion. In the end, it seems, the only one who did not lose in this scandal was Penn State’s administration.