Joe Paterno an Easy Target in Penn State Mess

Joe Paterno an Easy Target in Penn State Mess
November 7, 2011, 5:00 am

There is plenty of blame to go around at Penn State for what has unfolded in the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse case. Tim Curley deserves to lose his job as athletic director, and he will one way or another, even though the Board of Trustees granted a request for a temporary leave. Gary Schultz is somehow being allowed the same leave of absence and an escape back to retirement. These men should be fired, make no mistake about it.

Many have pointed a finger at Joe Paterno over the past 48 hours for his role in all of this. But why? Because he didn’t do enough?

Paterno was informed of possible sexual abuse of a child in 2002 by his former longtime defensive coordinator by a graduate assistant (who we now know to be former quarterback and current wide receivers coach Mike McQueary) and reported it to Curley the very next day, which is what the law requires him to do. At that time, legally, it is out of Paterno’s hands. Does that mean Paterno washed his hands of the situation? That is what some are expecting, and this is where the court of public opinion runs wild without merit in many ways.

As Paterno suggested in his statement, at this point it is best to allow the legal process to unfold so we can fill in the blanks of information. Many are just assuming that Paterno never did anything after bringing this up to Curley in 2002. We do not know this to be true, and to be fair we do not know it to not be true. We just do not have enough information to make a decision one way or the other.

So why is Paterno such a hot-button issue when there are so many more people that deserve the ire of the media, fans, and practically everybody else in such a heinous crime or series of crimes? It’s simple. Paterno is the figurehead. Paterno is the name everybody knows. Paterno’s role in all of this, as minor as it is, is what people will latch on to because it is the easiest, and laziest thing to do without taking in to account all of the facts of the grand jury presentment.

It is an incident like this that will grow all kinds of legs and run wild with those in the national media who see that Paterno’s name shows up in an attorney general’s report and although his name appears a small handful of times, making a story with Paterno in the headline will grab more attention nationally than some story about a former coach and a bumbling athletics director. It is sad, but painfully true.

This is not to say that Paterno is without fault. According to the law Paterno could have called the cops and should have called the police with the information of suspected sex abuse of a child. But let’s step back and attempt to place ourselves in his shoes for a minute.

Some of you may be smarter than me when it comes to the law, but before all of this information came out I will admit that I did not know I was legally required to report the sexual abuse of a child. Maybe you did and I am ignorant on this instance, but hear me out. I didn’t know it was the law, so who is to say Paterno didn’t know the law as well? Mind you, not knowing the law does not prevent one from breaking the law, but in this case Paterno followed the law as it was initially written.

Keep in mind that Paterno is a guy who has never tolerated much nonsense on his watch as far as the football program has been concerned. When Phil Taylor brandished a knife on a teammate inside the locker room, Paterno and his staff were quick to ensure he was removed from the team. Taylor transferred to Baylor after being kicked off the team. Austin Scott was kicked off the team following charges of suspected statutory rape (to be fair Scott had a history of violating team rules as well, but the timing seemed kind of odd), which were later dropped. Paterno is a guy who sits players for showing up late for practices and meetings and other team functions. Yet nobody will give him even the benefit of a doubt that he tried to do what he thought was right in this Sandusky situation?

Sandusky operated a football camp on Penn State’s campus as recently as 2009. This is not something Paterno would have had control over. Sandusky was around the football program in practices and on game days, but as hard as it may be to believe, Paterno had no authority over those appearances. Paterno could have voiced his opinions to the game day operations directors and facilities managers (and we don’t know if he did or didn’t), but the final decisions on whether or not Sandusky would be allowed to have the access he did after retirement would have been at the discretion of a higher authority than Paterno.

If it sounds like I’m making excuses for Paterno, well right now I suppose I am. If we eventually learn that Paterno avoided the situation just the same way Curley and Schultz buried it, then I take back all of this. But for right now everybody is playing the attack Joe card, so somebody has to play the Devil’s advocate.

The fact is Paterno is just a minor player in all of this. This is not a Paterno story because, believe it or not, some things at Penn State are larger than Joe Paterno. This is more about the secret life of a longtime Paterno assistant, the lack of action by the athletic director and head of the university police, with jurisdiction.

If this is how Paterno goes in to retirement it will be a shame for a number of reasons, but we will have to wait and see. Just remember that Paterno is only a minor character in all of this in State College. He is an easy target, but he should not be the big target.

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