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Lynching Joe Paterno in the Court of Public Opinion

By       Message Walter Uhler     Permalink
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I've received two BAs (with distinction) and one Master's Degree from the Pennsylvania State University. I studied history there under a Renaissance man, Professor Sergei V. Utechin, and also frequented his informal seminar -- the equivalent of the 19th century salon -- where "zakuski" (hors d'ouevres) accompanied discussion of weighty subjects, either in Russian, French or English. Some of the best years of my life were spent as an undergraduate and, then, a graduate student and teaching assistant at Penn State.

I purchased more books than I could read or afford and spent countless hours in Pattee library. But, I also enjoyed many autumn Saturdays in Beaver Stadium, watching Coach Joe Paterno's Penn State football team roll over opponent after opponent. In fact, I've been purchasing season tickets to Penn State's football games -- and attended all but a few of those games -- since 1971. That's forty years.

Both of my sons earned BAs from Penn State, as did one of my daughters-in-law. My older son attended his first Penn State football game at the age of three. Both of my sons became avid Penn State football fans. In fact, for the past few years my sons and I have been purchasing eleven season tickets to Penn State's football games.

Those eleven season tickets and the high cost of hotel rooms, the prospect of sending grandchildren to summer sports camps at Penn State, and the splendid quality of university life -- last winter I attended a lecture at Penn State's Paul Robeson Center devoted to the subject of Africa's contribution to American culture, as well as a jazz concert featuring Dave Brubeck and Ramsey Lewis -- all prompted me to purchase a house in State College in the summer of 2008.

Thus, it's fair to say that both I and my family have a strong emotional attachment to Penn State University. Part of that emotional attachment can be attributed to the pride we have in the integrity of Coach Joe Paterno and his football program. Although the propaganda arm of the university calls it "Success with honor," we simply pride ourselves in that fact that our university's athletic teams often win championships with students who were recruited honestly and who actually graduate. Joe Paterno's "Grand Experiment" became the template for all of Penn State's immensely successful athletic programs.

Lest you hastily conclude that such beliefs are nothing more than unadulterated bias, consider my visit to Memphis, Tennessee some fifteen years ago and my encounter with a man who subsequently identified himself as a high school teacher there. After noticing my Penn State shirt, the coach asserted: "We, in the South, think very highly of Coach Paterno. We wish we were able to win football games with genuine college students, like he does. But, we don't seem to be able to pull it off."

Given Paterno's and Penn State's reputation as the conscience of college football, it came as quite a shock to learn that a pillar of the community -- the well-known former assistant football coach at Penn State, Jerry Sandusky -- had been indicted for sexual assaults on no less than eight children, that Athletic Director Tim Curley had been charged with failure to report one of those sexual assaults to the proper authorities AND with lying to the grand jury, as had been one of Penn State's Vice President's, Gary Schultz.

Although all three have proclaimed their innocence, and, indeed, must be presumed to be innocent until proven guilty, the evidence against Sandusky appears very persuasive. It's the main reason why so many in the extended Penn State family feel betrayed and sad.

The charges against Mr. Curley and Mr. Shultz appear less persuasive, especially when you consider that there exists some uncertainty about what Mike McQueary, an eyewitness to a sexual assault by Sandusky in 2002, first told Joe Paterno and then Mr. Curley about that assault.

Coach Paterno -- who, according to the deputy state prosecutor handling the case, did the right thing, and handled himself appropriately in 2002 and during the three years covering the investigation -- has asserted that when an obviously distraught McQueary talked to him about what he saw Sandusky do in 2002, "he at no time related to me the very specific actions contained in the grand jury report."

If Paterno is to be believed -- and, at this time, there's no reason not to believe him -- then one must wonder what McQueary actually told Paterno and, subsequently, Curley. Thus, until McQueary, Paterno and Curley testify in court, one can't discount the possibility that Curley was telling the truth when he told the grand jury that, after talking to McQueary, he concluded that Sandusky was simply horsing around and wasn't suspected of committing a sex crime. If all of that is true, then there would be no failure to report and no perjury committed.

Note, I'm not saying all of this is true. I'm all for letting the facts fall where they may. If there was a cover-up, let's find out. What I am saying, is what Socrates said long ago: Effective virtue requires knowledge and the assessment of right and wrong must await a determination of the true and false.

Unfortunately, the rush to pontificate about right and wrong without straining to determine the true and false has been widespread. It's truly repulsive to read the opinions of so many average citizens who, clearly, have not taken the time to read or think seriously about the case. Most of these opinions appear to be predicated on emotional impulses.

Even more repulsive, however, has been the truly thoughtless bullshit flung by "journalists," who, one would hope, should know better.

Most of this bullshit pontification has come at the expense of Joe Paterno; probably because we expect so much more of "Saint Joe" and -- so far -- the record in the tawdry Sandusky case does not indicate that he lived up to our expectations.

Perhaps, you've heard it: Joe may have performed his legal duty to report McQueary's allegations to higher authorities, but he did not meet his moral obligation -- whether that obligation was to find out who the child was, to assure that his superiors actually reported the assault to the police, and/or to report the assault to the police himself.

I especially have in mind journalists -- clowns, actually -- like Bob Ford at the Philadelphia Inquirer,, Michael Bradley at the Philly Post, and Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post. In fact, I sent Ms. Rubin an email today that says the following: "I read with dismay your righteous indignation concerning the Sandusky scandal at Penn State.  Presumably you've read the grand jury's findings?   Assuming that's the case, please answer the following questions.

  1. Did Joe Paterno have any knowledge about the alleged dark side of Jerry Sandusky prior to March 2002, when Mike McQueary told Paterno what he observed Sandusky doing in a Penn State shower?

  2. Did Paterno know about any other sexually inappropriate behavior by Sandusky after the one in 2002?

  3. Do you know precisely what McQueary told Paterno about that incident? 

  4. Do you have facts to rebut Paterno's claim that McQueary "at no time related to me the very specific actions contained in the grand jury report?"

  5. What did McQueary subsequently tell AD Tim Curley?

  6. Do you know how Paterno weighed what he heard from McQueary against what he thought he knew about Sandusky's do-gooder work with at-risk kids?

  7. Having answered questions 1-6, are you now certain that Paterno had a higher moral obligation to do more than simply report McQueary's allegations up the chain of command?

  Knowing beforehand that you can't answer any of these things definitively -- and thereby failing Socrates' admonition to establish the true and the false before pontificating about the right and the wrong -- I can't help but conclude that you're just another poorly educated journalistic hack.


  Walter C. Uhler

Philadelphia, PA"

I should have added an additional question: In light of these still unanswered questions, isn't it indeed possible that Joe Paterno and his football program did nothing wrong, other than unwittingly employ an alleged sexual predator as an assistant coach between 1994 and 1999?

  These are the very questions that every journalist and citizen must answer before they lynch Joe Paterno in the court of public opinion for his failure to meet his moral obligation. But, beware; if Joe Paterno is brought down by Penn State's trustees before receiving the due process he deserves, the lynching will have become a despicable fait accompli.


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Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San (more...)

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