COMMENTARY: Sorry, Joe, You Have to Go 748.5

At the risk of losing my credibility, I have to retract my previous commentary, “Say It Ain’t So, Joe,” in which I urged readers to be generous in assessing the moral culpability of Penn State Coach Joe Paterno in relation to an undeniably horrendous situation involving the sexual abuse of children by former coach Jerry Sandusky.

This change of position does not come easily or without a sense of embarrassment, but after reading the Grand Jury’s 23-page Findings of Fact and having a passionate discussion with my wife, I’ve concluded that I allowed my admiration of Coach Paterno’s philosophy and character to blur my vision.

I hate throwing Coach Pa’s legacy on the bonfire of public outrage, but I am now convinced that Penn State’s Board of Trustees did the right thing in firing Coach Paterno and President Spanier.

The Board undoubtedly considered the additional damage to the university’s reputation that would have resulted from a new firestorm of criticism had Coach Paterno been permitted to take the field representing Penn State on the national stage of this Saturday’s game, but I can’t justify diminishing the legacy of a great coach and a fundamentally good man for public relations reasons alone.

The more important consideration for me is the need to send a powerful, unequivocal message that everyone who has an opportunity to protect children has an obligation to muster the fortitude and moral courage to do so. Looking the other way, taking half measures, or attempting to defer the responsibility to others is simply not acceptable.

We know that a molester doesn’t just molest one child. We know the enormous lasting damage caused by such despicable behavior. We also know that responsible people must make every effort to prevent the the infliction of this harm, to vindicate the victims, and to bring criminals to justice. In hindsight, there can be no doubt that Coach Paterno and many of his colleagues failed to do that.

I’m truly sorry Joe, but you have to go.

Comments 44

  1. I was anxiously awaiting your opinion on all of this and I have to say thank you for not only talking about what it is to have true character but for also displaying yours- in a positive way, of course.

  2. He absolutely has to go. A football program is not more important than the lives of those children who were so terribly harmed. Every single person who knew about the abuse and did not call the police bears responsibility for allowing it to continue. Mr. Paterno has greater responsibility by virtue of his position. It is clear the University has failed in its mission when we see the news that students have rioted over Paterno’s firing and some are quoted as saying that he did nothing to deserve being fired. The primacy of football at Penn State over basic human decency and understanding of the ethical considerations of this situation is stunning.

    1. Ms. Graham, I did not see your comment prior to submitting mine. Thank you for your words. I obviously agree with you. This is a horrible event. Ironically one of the quotes in this issue is that from Edmond Burke, “The only thing necessary for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” A personal favorite of mine. Kinda drives the point home.

  3. I’ve been waffling on this myself, and am not quite sure where I stand. It appears that Coach Paterno told not only University officials, but also to campus police. Coach Sandusky was not working for Paterno at this time and Joe apparently had no vehicle for discipline other than just pursuing the matter more generally through the police.

    A very thoughtful defense of Paterno here that helped me with a good perspective from those closer to the situation:

    But I don’t know how anybody could have ever looked Sandusky in the eye again after finding out what he was doing.

    1. The individual responsible for giving Joe the information also needs to go. He was a grad assistant, and is now a recruiter. However, based on what I’ve heard from ncb news coverage, Joe followed what was required of him by Pennsylvania law, which allows one to report up the supervisory chain. In my state, you have to go directly to the police… maybe that should become a national policy.

    2. Waffling, no doubt, is what got us to this point, isn’t it. There is no waffling in protecting children from predators. There is no, “What should I do? What is the right thing? Do I protect the children or the football staff?” There is no choice but one. The children come first all the time, every time, always. You have to make it stop or you are culpable, period. Even if you are a great, legendary coach. You seem to be worried more about the men involved than the victims. That is how they get away with it, people keeping silent. That has to stop right now. Joe comes from a generation of secret keepers, that has to stop right now. It’s not okay to tell someone and then go about your business. If they do nothing, you must. Doing the right thing may seem tough but that’s only because you give yourself choices. Know in your heart and soul what you must do and do it. Easy.

  4. This was a no-brainer. If Paterno knew about this, and it appears he did, he had a responsibility to immediately go to the authorities–not slough it off to the Athletic Director and wash his hands of it. There is little human behavior that is more reprehensible than what Jerry Sandusky did, yet he was permitted to continue it. If new facts come out, of course we need to reconsider, but at this point–terrible.
    Read Maureen Dowd’s column in the 11/9/11 NYTimes.

  5. Thank You Michael…from a SURVIVOR of 5 years of the unimaginable. Thank you for giving the victim a voice and placing this matter in the proper perspective. I hope the students at the college will soon come to realize that a legacy is not more significant than the lives and well-being of innocent children.

  6. I would prefer that all of the permanent action and social commentary wait until there is a conviction by a jury. To my knowledge there hasn’t been a trial and a conviction. It seems to me that many are rushing to judgement prior to a fair presentation of the facts by all parties involved. Once a guilty verdict is reached, everyone involved must go, including the Board. If guilt is proven, the Board is negligent in supervision and hiring. They should, in all good conscience, upon a conviction, fire themselves! I would have preferred that everyone involved be put on immediate, unpaid, total leave of absence, until the facts can be determined.

    1. So you think the 10 year old boy being sodomized in the shower by Sandusky may have consented? It was just two lovers having a go? It was witnessed first hand, so you need a jury to give you permission to come to a conclusion? Amazing.

      Children before pedophiles. Can we agree on that?

      1. My position is simply to immediately keep everyone safe, while there is the discovery of facts. Then take strong action.

        If a 10 year old was sodomized with an adult observer and no action was taken instantly by the adult, and immediately by the university, the police, and the parents, then the whole crew needs be fired. Shut down Pennsylvania!

        Keep every one safe. Discover the facts. Take action.

  7. J.C. Watts, All American running back from Oklahoma expresses it best when he continually reminds us that “Character is doing the right thing when no one else is looking.”
    None of the people who observed the heinous act or learned of it later, like Paterno, did the right thing. It should have been an “automatic” no brainer. The moral compass is broken with these men.
    I submit that all high schools and universities should have a one semester class on MORALITY AND ETHICS, with no diplomas/degrees given until passed. For universities the course should be mandatory in the first year of enrollment.

  8. Joe Paterno acted in a legal and responsible manner, and should not have been made a scapegoat for the ethical lapses of his superiors, including the Board of Trustees from 2002 until the present.

    It is well known that employees of every organization are required to follow company rules and procedures about reporting and acting on any illegal activities they may become aware of. Yet, if those illegal activities are known to be tolerated by the top management, a whistle-blower faces almost certain disciplinary action for violating protocol (I speak from personal experience).

    If Mr. Paterno had gone directly to the police, as some in the media are suggesting he should have done on moral grounds, it would not only have been futile (the law does accept “hearsay” as evidence), but he could have been subject to legal action for slander because he did not have any direct proof.

    Keep in mind the corruption of our legal, financial and political systems before you impugn a man of proven integrity for making the correct decision in a difficult dilemma.

    The firing of Mr. Paterno in this humiliating manner is merely a PR ploy by the Board to squelch negative media coverage.

    1. 1. It’s ludicrous to say that Joe Paterno, the king of State College, would have faced “disciplinary action” from Penn State if he had reported this outside the chain of command.

      2. Reporting to police that you are aware of evidence that a crime may have occurred does not make you subject to legal action for slander! Sorry, but what planet are you living on? Are you aware of TIPS lines, “see something, say something,” and all the other pleas that law enforcement makes for help in identifying and solving crimes? Do you think that everyone who calls a tips line has to have direct proof, or else get sued for slander? Cops NEED to have hunches, possibilities, and hearsay reported to them, or they’d never collect enough evidence to solve crimes. 9 out of 10 tips may lead nowhere, but that 10th one is crucial. And the other 9 do not get sued for slander!

    2. Legality does not define morality is an important of every ethics class.

      1. Joe Paterno is Penn State football and has been for an eternity. His firing caused riots. Had his superiors taken action against him, they would have been in deeper water than him by a long shot. I can see it now. Paterno, the living legend and bastion of morality would say, “Sandusky was my friend and colleague but I did it for the children,” and he would have been telling the truth. The AD or president of the university could not stand against that. I see no reason whatsoever that Paterno would need to fear repercussion for doing the right thing.

      2. Paterno’s testimony in court would not be of value against Sandusky. But, informing the police of McQueary’s coversation about witnessing the event would enable them to go to McQueary for confirmation and then they could have taken action. McQueary could then testify to the event. The assertion that Paterno could get in trouble legally for slander is absurd. He received a first hand witness account of a crime. Reporting a first hand witness of a crime to the police in good faith is not punishable by the law as slander. If so, no one would ever report crimes. So, saying it would have been futile and dangerous to Paterno simply does not look at what happened and how the law actually works.

    3. 1. So, you are saying that if you had first-hand (or even second-hand) knowledge of a child being molested, you would do nothing? Or, you would only inform someone else and wash your hands of it? How many other children were harmed because Paterno and others did just that – washing their hands of the situation?

      2. You have first-hand knowledge as a whistleblower? It sounds like you now regret having done the right thing, and would rather defend those who made (at best) poor choices.

      3. The board firing them as a PR ploy was ruined by the video and news coverage of the many students rioting because of the firing (seemingly in support of child molestation – its all right, as long as we can keep our coach). Follow that with the next day’s announcement that they will not wear white in support of Paterno, but blue in recognition of child abuse, while at the same time announcing their opponents may not want to wear their team’s colors if they value their safety. Sounds like the entire campus needs help.

      1. Post

        Please read the follow-up commentary “Sorry, You Have to Go, Joe” where I retracted this after more thought, info and discussion. I think the assistant coach (then grad student) who actually witnessed it needs to go too.

    4. I don’t know of many companies that have a rule that says: “Don’t rape little boys.” I also can not imagine any companies where employees know that the illegal activity of raping little boys is tolerated by top management. Every person who had knowledge (either first second hand) of a ten year old being raped in a football team shower by an adult the child trusts and looks up to and did nothing aided and betted that crime. Every year that went by when more children suffered the same life debilitating crime meant those who had knowledge aided and abetted a serial criminal.

  9. Michael – as these events were unfolding, my emotions [about all the attention that was being negatively focused on Paterno] were all over the place and changing from minute to minute. That being said, I think your first commentary was just and thoughtful. And your follow up was terrific. With more information, a lot of us realized what needed to be done – and quickly. And I would say the same things goes for what Paterno likely faced when he was initially told of that first incident. But years passed and more incidents occurred. Could he not have heard abouth those other incidents? How could he not?

    A very disturbing and sad event like this takes time for us to process (when we’re not actually involved in it) and who amongst us wouldn’t like to think we would have stopped that first encounter (witnessed by McQueary), but it’s a circumstance so far removed from most people’s daily lives that it’s impossible to say what we would have done. The good news is the outrage is palpable and maybe incidents like these are a sad but good reminder that we really do need to force ourselves to act, to ensure people like Sandusky are stopped immediately.

    Thanks for your good work.

  10. Michael, I am going to UNSUSCRIBE to your newsletters. This is NOT about the protection of Penn State’s integrity or Joe Paterno’s legacy. It is about a person in a position of great authority looking the other way while young boys were vicitimized in his athletic center by his employee for SEVERAL YEARS. You should be coming to the defense, concern & care of these victims. Good-bye!

    1. Agree with you J Johnson. Nothing should trump sexual abuse of children, and knowing (or hearing, if we want to be generous) that it is happening by one of your staff, one who you know will have continued access to children, and not doing anything to stop it is never ok and never justifiable. I, too am UNSUBSCRIBING as the ethical message you presented on this topic is totally out of synch with the meaning of ethics.

  11. concur. The Grand Jury report was damning, but not for Joe. Joe didn’t know the contents of the report till it was written.

  12. I have been disgusted and outraged at the lack of concern for the victims. Sports have become so iconic that as a nation we have numbed ourselves to unthinkable acts upon our children. I do not care who you were to others or what they think of you, but should you be found to prey upon our innocent child you are worthless in my opinion. If this was about your child what would you be feeling at this moment when everyone is calling this Coach a role model? What would you have done if you were told what he was told? would you really just carry on with your day? I say shame on him. The coach began to believe his own hype. I think we let the children down and failed them.Never again, not one more child will this happen to is what we should say. Apparently I am a minority with this view. That won’t change my stance!

    1. Mr Davis,
      I agree with your comment about football and the inappropriate level of importance it has attained in this country. The priorities of nearly everyone concerned with Penn State have become confused over the years. I hope they will now be able to see more clearly that higher education should be the University’s main goal, not the athletic department. I live in Colorado where the highest paid state employee is the CU football coach, a ridiculous circumstance, in my opinion. I suspect this may be true in other states. I think the university president or state governor would be more deserving than a football coach, regardless of how many games he has won.

  13. This tragic series of events is not helped by mis-statements of the facts. Contrary to what a previous comment said and contrary to the story in the link provided that is a defence of Joe Paterno, the Grand Jury report does not include any indication that Joe Paterno reported the matter to the police or any police authority.

    What is does say, however, and even more troubling, is that Second Mile knew about this criminal behaviour, and appears to have done nothing about it. The irony is that Second Mile requires a criminal record check and references for all mentors. The fact that they didn’t report the incidents to the police, ban Sandusky from any involvement with second, and immediately cooperate in an investigation of any other children associated with Sandusky is even more tragic.

    1. Tragic is not the right word here. Criminal and indecent are more appropriate. Sandusky is a pedophile. There is no way of knowing how many childrens’ lives he ruined. All who knew of or suspected his behavior and did nothing are appalling.

    2. For a little clarification, the bleacherreport article linked earlier stated that Paterno reported to the “head” of campus police rather than that he reported to campus police. The “head” of campus police that article was referring to was not the head of campus police but rather Senior VP of finance and Business, Gary Schultz. (He was one of two men charged for not reporting the incident to the police.) One of his many duties is oversight of campus police but he is not the “head” of campus police. If he were the head of campus police, he couldn’t very well get in trouble for not reporting the incident to campus police. The bleacherreport is notoriously bad with regards to accurate reporting…

  14. The actions or inactions of Coach Paterno and the university adminastration are indefensible and inexcusable period, end of story. Our society has become infatuated with hiding behind policies and procedures. It shouldn’t take some written policy to realize this criminal behavior needed to be reported to the police.

  15. The absolute first and only reason for Joe Paterno to be fired has nothing to do with public relations but everything to do with character. There must be zero tolerance for crimes against children. Everyone involved in this horrific situation had multiple opportunities to stop what was happening. Joe Paterno included. He may have been a great coach, and a pillar of the university, but all the more reson that he shoudl have stood up for the children being victimized, to show his moral and ethical leadership was based in something deeper than athletic success.

  16. It seems to me that that the 28 year old graduate student who witnessed the rape being committed (McQueary) against a 10 year old child should have stepped in and stopped the act and immediately called the police. Instead, the coward called his daddy. Why hasn’t he been fired.

  17. At the risk of digressing, I offer a contiguous moral. Don’t rush to judge. Try to ensure you have a preponderance of the facts before offering up judgment, or commentary in this case.

  18. Well, I guess I was premature in blasting you just now by responding to your Say it Ain’t So Joe, but i wrote it before seeing your retraction. It pleases me that you took the time to discuss this with your spouse and reconsider your position.

    1. Post

      I’m lucky to have a spouse who is so smart. i should talk to her before I write but she’s not usually available at 3-4am when I finish most commentaries.

  19. I am not sure about the manditory reporting laws in Pennsylvania, but in the state I live, Joe Paterno would be considered a manditory reporter. This means, he would be mandidated by law to report even a suspicion that a child was abused. He would be required (legally obligated) to report what he knew to the police or child protective services, not an administrator. He would “inform” the administration that he reported the incident to the authorities but he would have never just left it with them to “do what they felt necessary”. Joe Paterno is absolutely right in his self-reflection that he should have done more, and in fact may have broken the law that he didn’t. Sorrow and regret on multiple levels.

  20. I don’t think Michael losses any credibility for reconsidering his initial reaction. Often times a step in reverse is a step in the right direction. But I don’t agree with the conclusion that Joe Paterno (and the university president) had to go. I’m surprised that Michael, with his legal background, agreed with that firing decision. I’m not saying that they (and others) shouldn’t have been fired, but what happened to (1) administrative fairness, where coach Paterno as an employee of the university was given a fair hearing (rather than being fired by a late night phone call without any prior discussion or consideration of disciplinary action); (2) the opportunity to learn and commit to more appropriate action in the future and make amends for the previous error; and (3) the protection of the 8th Amendment to the Constitution that requires that the punishment must fit the crime. Being fired from his job, violates these three basic tenets of the law.

    1. Rey Carr, you promote yourself as a “Mentor and Coach” on Twitter. The firing of Paterno does not violate “three basic tenets of the law.” Nearly every employer has a progressive discipline system that is based on the seriousness of the employee behavior. The more egregious the behavior, the more serious the action taken. Paterno’s behavior in this matter clearly warranted immediate termination which did not violate any tenets of the law.

      1. Do you have some knowledge of a progressive discipline procedure that Penn State used with Coach Paterno? From everything I’ve read to date, he wasn’t given any prior warning, and no steps normally associated with progressive discipline were instituted by Penn State. So maybe you’re actually validating my point, although your conclusion is just the opposite.

  21. I just read the 23 pages of the Grand Jury Testimony. I am totally suprised that Michael changed his mind. So many reason NOT to fire JP over the phone. I would have thought that Michael would believe that one is Innocent until Found Guilty. Penn State was his jury incorrectly. Their actions were “inappropriate, unaccepted and unprofessional. It is the Board that needs to be fired over the phone….all of them. JP could not go to the police authorities; he did not see the actions. He did take the story to the proper authorities and acted as the professional he is. How about the Campus Police – were they fired over the phone?? This is just a travesty; to trash a person’s life like they have JP. How said, now everyone is the Moral Police including you, Michael. But, I know you to be better than this. You will find your way back to the right decision. In the meantime, God Bless.


  22. I know that this article is about an event that has become so large that people are equating the Penn State Culture only to the events that have occured with Joe Paterno recently. Unfortunately as you stated in your first article that you felt this was not a character flaw and was a mistake. You allowed your opinion to be changed when we still do not know the entire story of what happened. Instead we have forgotten the Culture of a College where the student population comes together each February to hold “THON” the largest student fundraiser for Children With Cancer in the contry. Penn State is a community of Doctors, Lawywer, Educators, Engineers and every other career that is offered preperation for. It is Hershey Medical Centers dedication to children. I do not in any way want to take away from the incident and the horrors that were felt by these young men. We need to look to what can we do to make our youth more resiliant where they cannot be groomed by the pedophile or harmed by any other adult. Apparently these youth did not have the supports systems they needed to self report and to be taken seriously. We need to stop creating more victims and instead work on building strengths toward being survivors. The entire Penn State Family have now become victims with all the mean and angry statements that others make. JoePa is only part of the institution of Penn State and all institutions need to change every now and then. This is a man who has given his whole life to working to bring good. He had a lapse in judgement at an age where most others are no longer even thinking past their retirement. He is now being held responisble for the entire ills of a society that need to get their heads out of the sands and look at what do we need to do to build resiliency in our youth. As a fourth generation Penn Stater I think that my family’s legacy needs to be more than JoePa. We are….Penn State.

  23. Sport becomes too powerful in College campus. The vice president and coaches look the other way. Most people glorify Sport-its coach and players. Time to let the Colleges be the learning center rather than money maker machine.

  24. As a School counselor, I have utilized many of your commentaries as basis for Character Education activities in my guided clasroom instruction. I am now asking to have my name withdrawn from your What Will Matter commentaries.
    Because you support the ideology What Will Matter, Doing the right thing, and Character Counts, I am shocked that you, Mr. Josephson had to have an empassioned conversation with his wife AND had to read a 23 fact sheet to have clearer vision regarding Joe Paterno’s dismissal.
    As a care giver of children, I am a mandated reporter-meaning that by state law, I am required to report any suspicion of physical sexual and/or emotional abuse.
    But that aside, as an adult – A GROWN UP -I am morally responsible to protect the innocence of our youth. For Mr. Paterno to take this matter to his superiors, as opposed to contacting authorities, is irresponsible and immoral.
    We always tell our children to go to a trusted adult if you are being harmed in any way, and they will do the right thing to ensure safety. If these children couldn’t trust the “respected ” adults -GROWNUPS- of Penn State to protect them, then who else could they have gone to?
    Mr. Josephson my comments to you are that your clouded vision- has caused me and I hope many other stewards of children to say Mr. Josehpson YOU TOO MUST GO.
    Trish Denham

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