Joe Paterno and the Culture of Sports and Silence
Should Joe Paterno resign? That seems to be the question of the week.
One might ask more pointedly, should Joe Paterno be held accountable for his inaction? I thought about this yesterday as I listened to conversations about the Sandusky allegations, as I read posts and comments and editorials on the whole story, as I watched the opinions unfold on twitter.
I was a little unnerved at how many people were defending Paterno, saying what a detriment it would be to the Penn State program if he resigned, talking about the loss of morale the team would suffer and what a revered hero Paterno is (two people involved in the scandal have already stepped down).
This revered hero was told about a horrible act committed against a ten year old and he dropped the ball on it. Yes, he reported it to someone at Penn State. But he didn’t do what he should have done. He didn’t follow up. He didn’t alert the authorities. He just told someone about it and then let it go. That’s unforgivable. While Paterno claims he “met his responsibilities” I think there are many of us out here who would beg to differ, or at least have him defend what he thought his “responsibilities” were when confronted with evidence of inappropriate activity by Sandusky at the Penn State campus. Regardless of the fact that he didn’t know the “specifics” of the incident, he knew it involved Sandusky doing something that made the witness “distraught” and that right there should have been a red flag.
Alleged is a tricky little word, isn’t it? It’s a modifier writers use to stay on the good side of slander. Even when the evidence is damning, even when the grand jury findings are sickening, revolting and sad, we have to use the word alleged because, innocent until proven guilty. So I’ll keep using the word alleged in front of Sandusky’s crimes because I have to, but I’m damn near ready to send this guy to hell.
There’s this culture surrounding sports where people are put on pedestals, held up as untouchable, infallible. Even when they do wrong (see, Kobe Bryant, Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger) excuses are made, forgiveness is quickly bestowed and alleged victims are forgotten. People want what is best for their team, at all costs. They want victories. It doesn’t matter if the person helping them get those Ws is an upstanding citizen or a bottom feeder of society, a win is a win is a win. Bad things are easily forgiven if it means a championship banner.
When the whole Catholic church sex abuse scandal erupted, the pitchforks and torches came - rightfully so. People were calling for resignations of everyone involved, even criminal culpability, from the Pope on down. Anyone who turned a blind eye to the abuse of young boys, anyone who knew of the allegations but didn’t report them, anyone who let things slide under the radar needed to be held accountable.
So how is this any different? How are some of the same people who called for the church to make heads roll defending Joe Paterno’s actions (rather, inaction)? Well, Popes and bishops and priests don’t win football championships, that’s why.
Yet here we have the same situation, the systematic abuse of young boys at the hands of a trusted community member and there were people who knew, who could have put a stop to it as far back as 2002, but didn’t. Mike McQueary, the grad student who witnessed the abuse (who is now on the coaching staff) is one of them. Joe Paterno is another. Telling someone about the abuse and then letting it go wasn’t enough. A ten year old kid being raped is not something you let go. It’s not something you don’t report to the police.
Will forcing Paterno’s resignation mess up Penn State’s season? Sure it will. But anyone who puts the value of a winning college football season over righting a wrong has skewed priorities.
Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said: “He’s the number one guy in college coaching and everybody looks up to Joe. hen something like this occurs to his program all it just says is, ‘Joe, hey, you’re just like all of us. You have problems like all of us.’"
Yea. Not many people have the “problem” of not having reported to the police their knowledge of the sexual abuse of ten year old boy.
There are moral victories and there are sports victories. Only one of them is important in the long run.