With the recent Penn State scandal, Joe Paterno and his position as head coach has been called the heartbreak because of the legend he created. Some have chosen to focus more on how it was devastating to see Paterno fired than the acts committed by Jerry Sandusky and the failure to report it by Paterno. Outraged by Paterno’s dismissal, Penn State students rioted the streets. A Penn State student stated, “Joe’s leaving is the biggest heartbreak to PSU,” while another insisted, “Paterno should at least be able to finish out the season.” – The News Record.
Those students are somewhat near sighted. The heartbreak is not the sanction but the act that justifies that sanction. The fact that Paterno is such a celebrity should not exempt him from a well deserved sanction. Far from it: his celebrity conferred him with a heightened duty to the public as the role model figure he incarnated.
The Penn State board of trustees fired Paterno and Penn State President, Graham Spanier. Paterno wanted to wait until the end of the football season to retire as head football coach. It is a selfish move—to say the least—to want to continue his professional career when he could not fulfill one of his important and basic duties as Penn State faculty, as a mandated reporter. Moreover it reveals the state of mind of one who does not even understand the gravity of his act.
Sandusky was an assistant coach for Penn State but now is charged in a 40-count indictment with sexually assaulting eight young boys. In 2002, Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant, told Paterno that he had witnessed Sandusky raping a boy in the Penn State locker room shower. Paterno told Tim Curley, Penn State Athletic Director, that McQuery had seen Sandusky, “fondling or doing something of a sexual nature.” No further actions were taken to report it to law enforcement.
CNN reports that Sandusky’s abuses of the young boys date back to 1994 through 2009. The first incident was reported to campus police by a victim’s mother and nothing more was done to investigate the case. Sandusky even abruptly retired at the peak of his career in 1999, except it seems to be a skeptical move by the university. Sandusky reported that he wanted to spend more time with his charity, The Second Mile. This alleged assault should have been reported and investigated. It seems like the cynical agenda of the university was to protect itself from a scandal for the strength of reputation and alumni donations. Though one could argue that Paterno chose to remain silent to protect the victim, one would have greater difficulties explaining why Sandusky was given access for 15 years to the facilities and to his young victims when Paterno and Spanier were aware (or to the least had great suspicions of what he was up to).
Today, students are defending what no one could defend in good conscience. As previously stated they blame the sanction and not the act. This confusion results in another fatal misperception of reality: confusing the perpetrators with the victims. Yes, Paterno may have had a great professional career but it needs to be set aside in regards to the crimes he is charged with. The students at Penn State do not have their moral compass straight if they can actually believe that Paterno being fired is the biggest heartbreak when there are eight men out there saying they were abused for years by Sandusky.
Editor-in-Chief, Criminal Law Brief