On Joe Paterno

“It just goes to show what happens when people care more about their own reputations than they do about children,” I was saying.

“I know nothing about Joe Paterno,” Mr. Magundi replied, “or about football for that matter, so I’ll just assume that, like most people in positions of great power, he is a monster of arrogance and irresponsibility. But when I look at the news reports and try to understand what he’s accused of doing, I have to admit that I’m pretty sure I would have done it myself.

“Already you’re looking at me with those big eyes and preparing your indignant replies, so let me explain what I mean, and then you can have at me. What Joe Paterno is accused of is not having done more than he had to do when an accusation against his subordinate was reported to him. He did not ignore the accusation, of course: it was his duty to report it to the school administration, and he did so. That administration received the report and decided to do nothing, and now has decided to fire Paterno for not having done enough. I hope the humor of that is not lost on you.

“But Paterno did not go to the police, and I know why not. The accusation was of a particular sort in which charge is equal to conviction and execution. A man accused of murder can be acquitted in court and go on to live a productive life, with many expressions of sympathy for the falsely accused. But a man accused of pedophilia is dead from that moment. Convicted or not, he will never be hired again by anyone. His property will be vandalized. His children will be pariahs at school. The chance that he will be murdered is not insignificant.

“So if your friend or associate is accused of that crime, what do you do? You must decide right now whether to kill him or not. There is a good chance that the accusations are true: in this case, everyone is certain that they were, though of course I should make the pro forma admission that nothing has been proved in court yet. Let us assume that they were true: the fact is that Paterno did not know that they were true. Faced with an accusation, but no proof, he did the thing that the law says he ought to do: he reported the matter to the school administration. And nothing more. Probably as a result of that decision, several more children were irreparably damaged.

“But if you want any explanation of why a man would be too much of a coward, if you want to call it that, to pursue the matter any further, do you need any more data than the spectacle before us now? Joe Paterno, who never violated any law and never abused a child, is ruined at the end of a long life, with no chance for redemption. Other men have been forced to resign their positions because they suggested that Paterno had done nothing wrong. You see how far the poison extends. It is not metaphorically but literally dangerous to say anything good about Joe Paterno, who did not molest children and did fulfill his legal obligations, but was not zealous enough for public opinion.

“And I repeat that I know nothing about Joe Paterno. He may be a snarling dragon of a man who beats puppies and deserves every kind of misfortune. But I also repeat that I would probably have been the same kind of coward that he was. And I make an even more shocking suggestion: I think you would have been, too.”

About The Publisher

H. Albertus Boli is well known as the editor of the celebrated Magazine that bears his name. He publishes Mr. Magundi's thoughts as a favor to an old friend, but it is Mr. Magundi who is entirely responsible for his own opinions.
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One Response to On Joe Paterno

  1. Jim Blandy says:

    Paterno had other options than you suggest.

    You’re correct that he had Sandusky’s fate in his hands, but if the accusations were true, he also had the fate of several boys in his hands as well. Thus his choice was not whether or not to condemn Sandusky, but whether to condemn Sandusky or his possible future victims.

    Given that either choice had momentous consequences, the best option for Paterno in this case was to find out more about the accusations. Paterno isn’t a detective, but it doesn’t follow that circumstances can never force one to take on that role.

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