Thursday, November 10, 2011

Joe Paterno is not a scapegoat

Well, Paterno is out, and it's sad. It's very hard to watch news coverage of him in front of his house and not come away feeling for him as a person. He clearly is an overall good person who has the best of intentions and loves State College, Penn State and the football program. But he's not a victim and he's not a scapegoat. For better and for worse Paterno is the symbol of Penn State. For decades that meant being deified for all that there is to love about Happy Valley and now that means being held accountable as an integral part of an organizational hierarchy that didn't take seriously enough allegations of what is arguably the worst crime that can be committed.

Penn State as an organization had lost its credibility and the public's trust for the way it handled this whole mess. It just wasn't possible for anyone from within that hierarchy to remain in place without further damaging Penn State's reputation. It would have been insensitive to the victims and a tacit endorsement of the state of leadership. No matter what the individual levels of culpability prove to be, the school basically needed to push the restart button immediately, which couldn't happen with the individual who is most closely identified with the program still in place.

One of the most common sentiments I have seen among PSU supporters is that there was a mob mentality in the media that the Board of Trustees somehow succumbed to. But however distasteful self-righteousness and one-upsmanship in the media may be, there has also been a much more rational and non-emotional perspective in the dialogue and I think it is instructive that they all also come to the same conclusion that Penn State had no choice but to move on immediately. I want to share a few in particular that I think really clarified things for me:
If we can all agree that the allegations are horrendous and the organizational failing was epic, then I don't see how the football schedule should factor into the response. The news broke this week, so it needed to be dealt with this week. But I'll end on a more positive note with another Mandel column. While emotions are running high regarding Paterno's firing, eventually those emotions will begin to subside. As that happens, Paterno's legacy will evolve to be nuanced to consider both the good and the bad, which, utimately, is what he deserves:


  1. Really enjoyed this article. Thanks for putting all of those links in there, I have read some of them and they are good reads. I'm looking forward to reading the others tonight.

    Again, to expand on this, I unfortunately believe this scandal is not even close to over and will continue to get worse.

    To clarify, in 1999, PSU had a good season - albeit a disappointing one in how it ended. Sandusky was 55, and was just named top college assistant coach of the year for the second time. He had forged a strong friendship with Paterno, and the future of the organization was strong.

    Then, out of the blue, Paterno tells Sandusky that he will not be the successor, and then Sandusky suddenly retires. Wait a second - why did Paterno tell him this? Did Sandusky ask? Highly unlikely. Things were going well, why would Sandusky rock the boat all of a sudden?

    He was only 55, why did he not go anywhere else? Please don't bring up that retirement package, that was done to make sure Sandusky left.

    There's more to that story and I could write more, but I think everyone has read basically everything on this already, so let's just wait for the next chapter in this story to open up.

    As for the students, don't feel ashamed because 'leaders' failed to do the right thing.

    And in passing, I have heard people saying the game should be canceled this weekend. That would be a huge mistake. By canceling the game, the board is saying that the team can't move on without Paterno. This team and university is bigger than one person, and will always be bigger than one person. Penn State needs to show its resiliency now. I am looking forward to it. I believe PSU will persevere and rise to the occasition.

  2. And also, I agree, it is sad. It's still hard to comprehend, honestly.

  3. Jeremy said:

    Very well stated. The Penn State Board did what they needed to do, in spite of how unpopular it was with their general population, and how counter it was to their long-standing and apparent culture of maintaining Joe Paterno's personal world, which I never understood.

    I read that Paterno cried when he told his team that he was retiring, and was emotional. It shows me he was thinking about himself in this, and was missing the bigger picture here.

    When the students were rioting last night, I heard them chanting "We Are Penn State." What does that have to do with any of this? It doesn't make sense to me.

    One last comment: I find it unusual that Sandusky retired at age 55 in 1999, and never went on to another team as a head coach or had any other coaching aspirations after Penn State. I just think there is more to this story as far as when people really knew about what was going on.

  4. R Korn said...

    Not that I am a big fan Madden, but he will be on CNN tonight at 8pm discussing the matter.

  5. Oechsleins said...

    Ben state, agree w/ everyone that paterno could not continue at psu. Some counterpoints of why he actually was a scapegoat due to the nature with which this was handled.

    Paterno was left to dangle amid the public scrutiny while all the other university "leaders" hid behind the walls of old main.

    Paterno was the only person fired for their association with the allegations. All the others (including ones charged with criminal offenses) either remain on staff (curley / mcqueary) or were allowed to resign (spanier / Schultz). In light of the fact that paterno was scrutinized by the same GJ investigation as the others and was not charged with a crime. Hypocrisy by the trustees.

    You also could have linked to the story from a lawyer for some of the victims whose viewpoint was that the trustees' decision on paterno may not have been in the best interest of the victims and they were never sought for input. Which invalidates popular opinion that this had to be done to begin the victims' healing process.

    Trustees didn't even have the personal integrity to meet w paterno in person. Instead chose to cut the man off with a late night phone call.

    Bottom line is that paterno was hung out to dry and eventually fired bc it was the easiest way for all the others involved (including the trustees) to keep the public scrutiny off of themselves. The media centralized the story on paterno rather than several charged of felony crimes (including sandusky himself) for one reason only - bc attaching his name to the story gets the most readers / site views / money.

  6. Unnamed Trustee said on the record that they fired Paterno because of "media scrutiny and to avoid further public outcry." The word "facts" is nowhere in that statement or in the decision . . .

  7. Newspapers are out to sell newspapers!?! Egads, someone alert the press!
    Seriously, though, Penn State isn't a scandal because of the crimes committed. It's because of the reaction by the school. If the allegations had been managed with any semblance of competency and accountability, the whole thing would have gone down as crimes committed by a horrendous person, with little more than the embarrassment of association on Penn State's part. When you consider Paterno's position within that failed leadership AND his status as one of the most famous people ever in his profession AND those few days of uncertainty when he was desperately trying to cling to his job, THOSE are the reasons he became the focus of media coverage. And of course media and public perception are influencing how this plays out, why wouldn’t/shouldn’t they?
    I can't muster up much sympathy for Paterno and I certainly don't view him as a victim. Given the context of what happened, how can any collateral damage related to cleaning up the mess be considered out of bounds or unjustified?