Monday, November 14, 2011

We Interrupt this Kangaroo Court for an Important Message about What We Don't Know about the Penn State Scandal

Armed with the hindsight of history and with a few scraps of fact (and plenty of fiction) in front of them, the media has embarked on the serious and careful process of recklessly trying Joe Paterno. After his firing by Penn State, they cheered. Now they're taking the next step and saying, with hopeful satisfaction, that he may be facing further charges.

This is the same media, of course, who only recently got through apotheosizing Michael Jackson, who had a disturbing penchant for sleeping with young boys. It's also the same media that looked the other way when gay rights groups associated themselves with advocates of pederasty and pushed for the lowering of age of consent laws.

In any case, when I wrote the previous post on the issue of Penn State and Joe Paterno in which I expressed my dissappointment with what I said I thought was scapegoating by the Penn State board, I had not read the grand jury report. Since then, several friends have expressed their dissatisfaction with my remarks on the basis of their reading of the grand jury report. Susan Perkins Weston, an education consultant, posted the following:
Martin, go read the grand jury report. Paterno knew boys were being raped. He knew that the Penn State aura was part of how the rapist recruited his victims. He knew at Nittany Lion facilities were part of the bait.
When I saw these comments, I thought to myself: Now you've gone and done it, Martin. You should have read the report before saying anything about this issue. You're going to look pretty stupid when you read this thing and see that Paterno was in fact implicated in this whole scandal. You should never have relied on media reports of what the report said (like that ever works).

Well, now I have read the grand jury report, and I have a public announcement to make:

The grand jury report says almost nothing about Paterno and what he knew. I have therefore done a complete 360 degree turn in my opinion and now I think ... just about exactly what I thought before.

In particular the grand jury report doesn't say anything close what Susan says it does. It does not say anything remotely like "Paterno knew boys were being raped." It says only that he knew about one and it wasn't exactly clear what he was told about it. Nor does it in any way indicate explicitly or implicitly that Paterno "knew that the Penn State aura was part of how the rapist recruited his victims." It doesn't say anything about Paterno knowing anything whatsoever about Sandusky recruiting anyone. Nor does it indicate that he "knew [that] Nittany Lion facilities were part of the bait."

Sorry, but it doesn't. And anyone who claims it does needs to quote for us the grand jury report, chapter and verse. I read the whole thing and it's not there.

What it does do is give a litany of the utterly depraved nature of Jerry Sandusky. To use an old-fashioned word, the guy was a pervert. Perversion, however, implies such things and sexual norms, and we all know now that there are no such thing as sexual norms. When it comes to sex, there is now only consensual and non-consensual sex, the former being perfectly permissible in all its permutations, and the second being absolutely wrong even though we no longer think there are absolute rights or wrongs anymore. So maybe I should shy away from the word "pervert."

On second thought, having studied this matter carefully and considered this issue seriously and in depth for about a fraction of a second, I think I'll use it at every available opportunity.

The grand jury report lists for the reader all of the many things Sandusky did which numerous people knew in bits and pieces, and much that nobody knew except for the victims. Wrong things. Perverted things. A lot of people knew a lot of things, but very few individual people knew more than a thing or two about what Sandusky was doing. A small handful of them knew enough to know that Sandusky was committing sickening crimes, and were, under Pennsylvania law, required to report them to police.

You can also say that many of them should, whatever the law may have required, reported them to police even though the law did not require them to do so. In hindsight, and knowing what we now know, this certainly seems to be the case with Paterno.

While many media reports seem to assume that Paterno knew that Sandusky was a sexual predator pervert, the grand jury report indicates one thing and one thing only: that one of his assistants came to him and said he saw Sandusky "fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy" (the report's words, not necessarily Paterno's), which is what Paterno reported to Penn State atheletics director Tim Curley the very next day, a Sunday, when Paterno called him to his home.

That's it. As the report says:
Pennsylvania's mandatory reporting statute for suspected child abuse ... provides that when a staff member reports abuse ... the person in charge of the school or institution has the responsibility and legal obligation to report or cause such a report to be made by telephone and in writing within 48 hours.
If you are not the person in charge of the school or institution, then your job is a little different. Here is what Pennsylvania law requires that you do: "... as a member of the staff of a medical or other public or private institution, school, facility or agency, [the person with a reasonable cause to suspect child abuse] shall immediately notify the person in charge." [emphasis added] This is precisely what Paterno promptly did.

But now Paterno's critics are applying the Monday morning quarterback rule (by which we all state that we know without a doubt what we would have done in this case except that we really don't) by which we attribute all that we now know about Sandusky being a sexual predator to Paterno and conclude that he therefore should have immediately reported it to police. As far as we know McQuery's accusation is the only thing Paterno ever heard about Sandusky's behavior. And if it was, it was probably a bit hard for him to believe about a person he had worked with as a coach for so long. As it was it was an accusation, and he did exactly what the law said he should do.

Now, should he have gone to police with an accusation like this from one of his coaches which he did not witness himself? Again, in hindsight it seems clear, he should have. There's a lot of things which in hindsight could or should have been done. I'd like to think that I would have gone and borrowed a bat from the baseball team and applied it liberally to Sandusky to make sure he was rendered incapable of doing anything to anyone again. But, knowing what we now know, we have lost all sense of what this charge may have looked like to Paterno at the time.

In fact, this is the main problem with the kangaroo court now in progress: it uncritically accepts the fact that Paterno committed some egregious moral blunder by reading back onto the situation at the time all that we now know, most of which almost certainly Paterno did not know.

We don't know, for example, whether Paterno even knew of the 1998 investigation of Sandusky (you know, the pervert), and had he known about it, he would have known that the report basically acquitted Sandusky. Not only that, but it turns out that investigation was shut down by the then head of the campus police--one of the entities that people are now saying Paterno should have known to report the incident to.

I heard one commentator talk about how Paterno should have known about what was going on because Sandusky was his "good friend." Uh, well, no. Sorry. Not only had Paterno informed Sandusky in 1999 that Sandusky would not be his successor, about which Sandusky was quite upset, but relations between the two seemed particularly strained (one report recounts Paterno damning the man with faint praise in a very brief comment at Sandusky's retirement dinner in 1999, after which Paterno promptly left).

It also appears that the two didn't socialized together.

I also have heard several commentators talk about Sandusky working under Paterno when Paterno received the original report from McQuery. Well, sorry again. Sandusky retired in 1999, three years before the incident that is now causing all the controversy. He was not on Paterno's staff at the time. It's not even clear he knew that Sandusky had access to the locker room.

In addition, we have no idea what the conversation was between Paterno and Tim Curley the day after the accusation was reported to Paterno. For all we know, Curley could have assured Paterno this would be dealt with. We just don't know.

As it is, what we have right now is bunch of commentators running around like 5 year-olds saying, "Why if I'd o' been there, I would o' [insert brave sounding heroic exploit here]."

The bottom line is there are too many unknowns to say much about anything relating to Paterno in this case. Maybe he knew everything that went on. Maybe he participated in a cover-up. Maybe he protected Sandusky. All that seems very unlikely given what we know, but who knows what further investigation will turn up in time.

My point was simply that there was insufficient reason to fire Paterno, a conclusion lent credence by the interesting coincidental fact that the board never provided one.

But observers far and near, who have almost literally nothing to base their charges on, are out in force announcing the verdict against Joe. If we're trying to figure out where injustices have been committed, however, it's probably not a good idea to commit them in the process.


Lee said...

Good post, Martin.

Regarding Sandusky: many commentators are saying how much they sympathize with the victims and how they won't waste any sympathy for Sandusky. I don't see why you can't have sympathy for both of them.

Sex makes men stupid.

Over twenty years ago, toward the end of the Reagan era, a (relatively) young, well-spoken, idealistic Democrat named Gary Hart seemed poised to win his party's nomination and the presidency. But there were photos circulating of a pretty young thing named Donna Rice sitting on his knee, and they eventually brought about the collapse of his campaign.

If someone had asked Hart, "Would you rather be president, or let that girl sit on your knee?" How do you think he would have answered? No one would have accepted that bargain, had it been presented in those terms. But when sex is involved, men's brains turn to mush.

In Sandusky's case, it was twisted sex, but still sex. As Paul wrote, the Lord abandons certain men to their lusts -- that is, even that small part of one's conscience that should be yelling, "Stop!" no longer works. At that point, after lust has won, we're not driving anymore, we're just passengers. At some point, it appears that choice itself is dead.

If somebody had asked Sandusky at a critical time, do you want to remain a prominent, well-respected college football coach, someone of whom your wife and children can be proud? Or would you like to do grievous harm to some little boys and in the process go to prison and shame your family? I'm sure Sandusky would not have accepted that bargain, when stated frankly in those terms. But the sin in him won. It's a tragedy.

So I have some sympathy for Sandusky. But that does not mean letting him off the hook.

KyCobb said...


Assuming that Joe Paterno was an at-will employee, the Board of Trustees didn't have to have any reason to let him go. Apparently they decided to get rid of everyone in a position of authority who participated in dropping the ball on this one. They have every right to do so.
Apparently it would be ok with you for your football coach to be almost completely disinterested in his facilities being used to molest a child. The Board of Trustees felt otherwise. Considering that coaches are regularly fired for no reason other than that they didn't win quite enough football games, the failure by Paterno to take enough interest in the comission of a serious felony in his facilities seems to me to provide more than enough justification to let him go.

SPWeston said...



Please revise the claim that I am "of the Prichard Committee."

When earning my income, I'm an independent consultant who has worked in the last two years for five Kentucky non-profits, two Kentucky limited-liability corporations, two out-of-state-nonprofits, and one out-of-state government agency.

When participating in civic life, I'm not speaking for any of my clients.

Martin Cothran said...


Sorry, I was just trying to place you. I could have listed all your many accomplishments, but it would have been too long! I'll make the change.