Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Disgust and the end of JoePa

I really want to write about LSU-Alabama but just can't avoid the Penn State thing, especially now that these probably-inevitable reports are coming in:
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Joe Paterno’s tenure as coach of the Penn State football team will soon be over, perhaps within days or weeks, in the wake of a sex-abuse scandal that has implicated university officials, according to two people briefed on conversations among the university’s top officials.
It's worth noting that Paterno's regularly scheduled Tuesday news conference was canceled, which makes sense given the fact that there wouldn't be a single question related to football but also serves to reinforce the NYT report.

I don't even know where to start with this mess. I've read a lot of stupid stuff and a lot of brilliant stuff in the last 24 hours, and none of it makes me feel any better about the disgusting actions of a bunch of powerful people at Penn State, with Jerry Sandusky taking "disgusting" to the nth degree.

Depending how closely you've been following the story, this chronology from the Associated Press might be of some informative value in establishing exactly what we're talking about here. I was going to blockquote it, but the list of appalling things is so long that it would double the length of this post. Just click the link if you want the full list. Here are a couple particularly awful excerpts from the grand jury report:
June 1999 — Sandusky retires from Penn State but still holds emeritus status.

Dec. 28, 1999 — Victim 4 is listed, along with Sandusky's wife, as a member of Sandusky's family party for the 1999 Alamo Bowl.

Fall 2000 — A janitor named James Calhoun observes Sandusky in the showers of the Lasch Football Building with a young boy, known as Victim 8, pinned up against the wall, performing oral sex on the boy. He tells other janitorial staff immediately. Fellow Office of Physical Plant employee Ronald Petrosky cleans the showers at Lasch and sees Sandusky and the boy, who he describes as being between the ages of 11 and 13.

Calhoun tells other physical plant employees what he saw, including Jay Witherite, his immediate supervisor. Witherite tells him to whom he should report the incident. Calhoun was a temporary employee and never makes a report. Victim 8's identity is unknown.

March 1, 2002 — A Penn State graduate assistant enters the locker room at the Lasch Football Building. In the showers, he sees a naked boy, known as Victim 2, whose age he estimates to be 10 years old, being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky. The graduate assistant tells his father immediately.

March 2, 2002 — In the morning, the graduate assistant calls Coach Joe Paterno and goes to Paterno's home, where he reports what he has seen.

March 3, 2002 — Paterno calls Tim Curley, Penn State Athletic Director to his home the next day and reports a version of what the grad assistant had said.

March 2002 — Later in the month the graduate assistant is called to a meeting with Curley and Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz. The grad assistant reports what he has seen and Curley and Schultz say they will look into it.

March 27, 2002 (approximate) — The graduate assistant hears from Curley. He is told that Sandusky's locker room keys are taken away and that the incident has been reported to The Second Mile. The graduate assistant is never questioned by university police and no other entity conducts an investigation until the graduate assistant testifies in Grand Jury in December 2010.
The obvious Sandusky outrage is, um, obvious. Using your position as a coach and charity founder to arrange private visits with boys only to molest/rape them is so patently disturbing that I don't even know what to say. Being locked up for life is too good for people who habitually violate children, even if we're ignoring the extra-sick part about doing it through a charity that's supposed to be helping at-risk children and instead was taking advantage of their lack of parental oversight. Ugh. I don't think I can write about this topic coherently for very long.

Seeing as how Sandusky is a sicko who's going to jail, the question everybody's asking now is the same one that always gets asked when you hear about stuff like this: Why didn't anybody stop it? How could Joe Paterno, Mike McQueary (the GA who's now a full-time assistant), the vice president of business, the athletic director and possibly the school president all find out about a longtime employee raping boys in the facility and doing nothing other than take away his keys? It boggles the mind.

There have been a lot of Paterno defense-type pieces written that have focused on the fact that he fulfilled his legal obligation by informing the athletic director (exactly what Paterno was told and what he told the athletic director is unknown, but we know McQueary told him in at least a general sense about the rape in the showers). Fulfilling your legal obligation is all well and good, but good Lord, when the police don't intervene, how can you just let it slide? This isn't some sort of infidelity like "I caught him with so-and-so's wife;" we're talking about a horrific crime. This was obviously acknowledged -- at least to some extent -- since Penn State took away his keys to the locker room, but not reporting it to the police shows a pathetic lack of morality from everyone involved. Any one of them could have potentially stopped another six years of sexual abuse by picking up the phone. Joe Paterno could get the governor and the Happy Valley chief of police on a short-notice conference call at 4 a.m. if he wanted to, and he never did anything besides tell the athletic director some version of the story and wash his hands. The A.D. gets special commendation for lying about it to a grand jury, which is always a wise decision.

I was actually formulating an outrage-filled column in my head yesterday at work when I stumbled across this one from Greg Couch at FOXSports.com that gently removes the words from my head and assembles them into a brilliant piece that will now be heavily quoted:

If the report is right, Paterno, leader of men for the past half century, simply called his athletic director and passed on the information of the rape his graduate assistant described to him; like telling your boss on a co-worker who is stealing staples from the supply closet.

No, Paterno, and the other school officials, did nothing to help the boys, or to help any other boys in the future.

They actually told Sandusky that he couldn’t keep bringing boys from his charity onto the Penn State campus, into the football facilities, according to the grand jury findings.

Not that they told him to stop doing to those boys what is alleged.

Just stop doing it here.

Bingo. This part also hits the proverbial nail on the head:
While the graduate assistant and janitor don’t get a pass, they were reacting to an emotional and horrifying scene.

Joe Paterno was not. Penn State athletic director Tim Curley was not. Penn State’s senior VP of finances and business Gary Schultz was not. Penn State president Graham Spanier was not.

They were acting, if the grand jury is right, in the most cool, calculating, self-preserving way.
There's a sentiment floating around that because Sandusky was Paterno's friend/confidant/co-worker for 35 years, it had to be extremely difficult to grasp the allegations and do the appropriate thing. I don't doubt that; I'd be horrified to find out one of my closest friends was a psychopath committing unspeakable crimes and needed to be removed from society forever. Still, you do it. You don't allow him to victimize countless more kids while pretending everything just went away because you passed along the info and nothing happened.

There is no chance I will ever be able to regain respect for Joe Paterno, which is why I'm following a friend's advice and ditching the use of "JoePa." In his sadly perfect words, "'JoePa' is a revered term, a teddy-bear-like figure that couldn't be implicated in anything like that. Paterno is a man that didn't know what to do and chose the wrong, wrong path." Well said.

For the record, I also feel the same level of disdain for Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, but those people were far less powerful (titles mean nothing) and are far less relevant to me.

When I started writing this, it wasn't yet known that Paterno was about to be forced out and I was mentally debating whether he should be fired. In that regard, the fact that he didn't do anything illegal has some significance. In a purely by-the-rules sense, he didn't do anything worthy of being fired; he did something (or didn't do something, in this case) morally/ethically terrible, but if we started firing college football coaches for moral/ethical crimes, we'd be out of coaches in a hurry and the SEC would cease to exist. Paterno's "crimes" just went to an extra level of awfulness.

All I can say for sure is that I'll never be able to look at the guy as something other than a formerly great man who cronied up when it mattered and turned into a Coke-bottle-spectacled child-rape enabler. Considering that he hasn't really coached a game in a decade and has become a literal figurehead, that's not a program image I'd be super excited about if I were somebody with a lot of money/power at Penn State. Whether that mean's he deserves to go isn't an easy or simple decision; it looks like it's already been made, though.

I don't know what word appropriately describes this end to an otherwise-brilliant coaching career that should unquestionably go down as one of the greatest in history, but it's not a good word. For many reasons, the whole thing makes me sad.


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