It’s not about Paterno or Penn State


07/12/2012 by anjru0805

Eight months and one week ago today, the allegations against former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky became public. In the following days and weeks, we saw the departures of president Graham Spanier, vice president Gary Schultz, athletic director Tim Curley and head coach Joe Paterno. Paterno announced that he would retire following the season but was fired a few hours later. In January, Paterno passed away from lung cancer.

I could have written this post in November or in January but I’m glad I waited until today. Sandusky was found guilty of 45 out of 48 counts of sexual abuse and the Freeh report (released today) shows the full role of Penn State administrators.

According to the Freeh report, Spanier, Schultz, Curley and Paterno didn’t do enough. According to me, that’s an understatement.

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh said:

“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State. The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized. [The officials] never demonstrated, through actions or words, any concern for the safety and well-being of Sandusky’s victims until after Sandusky’s arrest.”

On July 11, a letter from Paterno that hadn’t been published was released by the Associated Press. In it, Paterno rouses his Penn Staters, asking them not to accept what the national media and members of the public have said. He denies that it is a football scandal and the reputation of the university should not be tainted.

The letter reads:

“This is not a football scandal and should not be treated as one. It is not an academic scandal and does not in any way tarnish the hard earned and well-deserved academic reputation of Penn State. That Penn State officials would suggest otherwise is a disservice to every one of the over 500,000 living alumni.”

For the most part, he’s right. The academic reputation of the university should not be tarnished; I know many brilliant Penn State graduates and I think no less of them. The fact that Paterno even wrote “football” once in his entire letter tells me that he’s missing the point. He missed the point for (at least) 14 years.

Paterno defends the university, its graduates, the football program and even himself. I commend him for that. It’s not an easy thing to stand up for what you believe in when the whole world is seemingly against you. Paterno should have stood up for what was right 14 years ago. But this is not, was not and never will be about Joe Paterno. It’s not about football. It’s not about Penn State alumni.

This is about the victims. These children, now young men, were preyed on by a vicious man incapable of seeing right from wrong. Their lives have been changed in a way incomprehensible to you and me.

Spanier, Schultz, Curley and Paterno should have done something. Someone should have done something. But no amount of civil lawsuits, jail time or FBS bowl bans can change what happened. I could have written an entire post criticizing Paterno and I’m sure someone out there is writing one to defend him.

Let’s keep this in perspective and hope that such a heinous act will never happen again.

10 thoughts on “It’s not about Paterno or Penn State

  1. Jason says:

    You are wrong. Obviously, it is about the victims. However, it is ALSO about the immoral and criminal behavior of Penn State officials that facilitated the abuse. The spotlight is thus appropriately on Paterno and Penn State for their total disregard for the victims’ welfare. To fail to focus on Paterno and Penn State is to do a great disservice to the victims.

    The fact that you “commend” Paterno for his laughable and self-absorbed defense is strange to say the least. There is nothing commendable about obfuscating the truth to protect oneself and one’s reputation, especially when it involves child-abuse. The fact that the “whole world” is seemingly against him doesn’t make his defense any more defensible or commendable.

    • anjru0805 says:

      I am not commending him for trying to protect himself. I agree that that is unacceptable. I think that it is unfair for people to put the blame on Penn State as a whole (current students, alumni, etc.) I commend him for defending those people and the degrees that they received from the university. I am not criticizing anyone for where the “spotlight” should be, I just don’t want people to look at every Penn Stater in a negative light nor do I want people to forget about the victims.

  2. Jason says:

    You explicitly commended Paterno for defending himself. Here is your quote: “Paterno defends the university, its graduates, the football program and even himself. I commend him for that”.

    The title of your post-“It’s not about Paterno or Penn State”- and your subsequent insistence that “this is about the victims” and “let’s keep this in perspective” implicitly argues that the focus should be be on the victims rather than Paterno or Penn State. Perhaps this is not what you believe, but it is overwhelming the impression that you give. Of course, the focus should be on the victims, but it should also be on the administrators who facilitated/covered-up the abuse.

    It is fair to criticize Penn State as a whole for the cult-like reverence towards Paterno and the football program. It is clear that the culture that permeated Penn State resulted in people unwilling, either out of reverence or fear, to report the abuse to authorities.

    I agree with you that it is unfair to view every Penn Stater in a negative light and also that we shouldn’t forget the victims. Very few people would argue against that.

    • anjru0805 says:

      By defending the university, its graduates, the football program and himself, Paterno was doing what he thought was right. I commend him for saying what he wanted no matter what others thought. Like I wrote, he should have done the same 14 years ago. He was right to defend the university’s graduates and wrong to defend himself.

      It was not my intention to give off the impression that no focus should be on the administrators at Penn State. Obviously there should be. What I meant to do, and clearly failed to do so in your eyes, was to convey that we should not forget the victims among the hateful messages towards Sandusky. There is no either-or focus.

      • Jason says:

        Andrew, I’m glad you recognize that the focus should be on the administrators at Penn State, in addition to the victims. That there should be no “either-or-focus” is precisely the point I was trying to make.

        You say “By defending the university, its graduates, the football program and himself, Paterno was doing what he thought was right.” First, I see no reason to believe that Paterno’s defense was motivated by anything other than naked self-interest. The fact that he failed to stand up for what was right for the past 14 years testifies to his lack of a moral compass.

        I also disagree that there is anything inherently commendable about Paterno “saying what he wanted no matter what others thought”. That doesn’t make something commendable.

      • anjru0805 says:

        I agree completely. Paterno defended himself and others for selfish reasons for a long time. Motivation aside, he defended the degrees of so many Penn State alumni and he was correct to do so. Their diplomas should not be revoked or mean less because of this story.

  3. Cody says:

    Jason, this sounds like a case of you going into a reading knowing your opinion and knowing that no matter what, it was going to be the same. If that is the case, what was the point of reading the article. What I got out of it was a call to not generalize, which is what humans way too often do. When you generalize like I, as a resident of PA often hear, you say that you don’t like Penn State because abuse happens there. The point of this article is that no matter who is right and wrong in the power players, it should remain only on the power players shoulders, that it should by no means extend to those people who strive every day to uphold the high standards that Penn State has created for itself. That is the portion that is commendable, not that Joe Pa did no wrong, but that he realized the storm that was going to unrightly come onto every innocent person in the Penn State community, most of whom revile the sexual abuse.

    • Jason says:


      If your point is that I read Andrew’s post with an opinion in mind, obviously you are correct. I’ve followed this case for the last 8 odd months, stayed up to date with Sandusky’s trial, and read much of the latest investigative report. Of course, I formed an opinion on the scandal before reading this article, as I’m sure you did.

      If your point is that I’m closed off to additional well-reasoned arguments, you are incorrect.

      I agree with the sentiment that the blame should mostly fall on the power players’ shoulders i.e. Paterno, Spanier, Shultz, and Curley (with the obvious addition of Sandusky). However, since the abuse was facilitated by a Penn State culture that unquestioningly idolized Paterno and the football program, I think that some of the blame falls upon Penn State as a whole.

  4. Cody says:

    Therein lies the issue that many people will find. But, show me the power that the general public had in the cover up, and I will concede that you were indeed “right.” The issue shouldn’t be the loving culture of the coach, because they choose to see the good in Paterno, just as right now you are choosing to focus on the bad. The culture did not facilitate anything, the people who knew and did nothing facilitated it. No one disagrees with your point about the power players being at fault, but what does a student or faculty member who knew nothing of this incident (because of the adept cover up) change this. People in the Penn State community are doing the right thing, they are chiding and turning on those at fault, including Paterno. But, the reason Paterno seems to come out on top, as I said above, is because for this one horrible decision, he has a million great decisions that could overpower it. No one will forget what he did, but only the future will tell what his legacy is created on.
    This is an age old problem where everyone gets blamed for a few people’s problems. If you don’t have the awareness of a situation, can you change it?

    • Jason says:


      I agree with you that the public, in general, cannot be blamed. I disagree that the culture at Penn State didn’t help facilitate the abuse. By this, I mean that the entire hierarchy of Penn State, from top to bottom (from the janitors, to assistant coaches, to the very top people), were unwilling to stand up and do the right thing. The culture was insular, unquestioning, obsessed with football success, and focused on idolizing Paterno. It wasn’t just a few a people or bad apples. It was an entire culture, from the top to the bottom of the Penn State hierarchy.

      The abuse did not happen in a vacuum. Multiple Penn State people, from the janitors to the president, either witnessed the abuse or were notified of the abuse. And yet, virtually NOTHING happened for 14 years. There is a reason Sandusky used Penn State facilities for the scenes of his crimes. Clearly, he felt safe and protected there.

      And it wasn’t just one bad decision that Paterno made. It was a series of bad decisions over a 14+ years.

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