Commentary: Further thoughts on PSU including views from another angle
by Jonathan Hodges

Once again, my thoughts and prayers go out to the real victims of this horrible mess and I hope that the outpouring of support from around the nation gives them strength to continue on, and I also hope that this all leads to something positive down the line in terms of an act that is prevented or reported that otherwise might not have been. One hopes that the primary lesson here is: "if you see something, say something," and here is one place you can call: Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD http://www.childhelp.org/pages/hotline

In my previous commentary on this matter, I tried to give it time before writing in order to get as much of the picture as possible and develop a thoughtful yet timely opinion. I realize that I was essentially jumping on the bandwagon with almost the entire nation outside of State College by calling for the immediate dismissal of Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier. I still believe that those moves were well justified, as I will explain later. But first, I must present another view.

Taking football and the relative stature of his person out of this, the firing of Paterno may not have been such a good thing in one specific way: it could easily be seen as retribution for reporting the crime when he very well may have been better off covering it up himself. Although there were certainly further things he could have done from a moral standpoint, he followed the letter of the law (hence why the prosecutor did not bring him up on charges) and brought it to his superiors. He was not the one who directly covered up the crime, and instead did what we all hope one would do: tell someone who can take action. It is quite possible that someone somewhere saw what happened and decides to cover up a similar accusation at their level instead of risking the trouble of passing it along or calling it in. I must credit my wife, a child psychologist and mandatory reporter (of child abuse), for being strong in this view, and I think it is a legitimate one.

But, I believe, as many others also do, that Paterno was much more than a regular reporter: he was one of the most powerful people on campus, likely more powerful than the two men who were ultimately charged with perjury and essentially covering up the matter. He purported himself in an ethical manner and preached morality time and time again, yet he just didn't go far enough. This inaction directly led to the current quagmire that the university is in, but, more importantly, allowed a predator to continue victimizing innocent children. His statements in recent days somewhat acknowledge that he did not do enough, but fail to recognize the gravity of the entire situation. To him, football was more important, hence his somewhat pompous statement about retiring at the end of the season and declaration that the Board of Trustees need not concern themselves with him.

And that leads to the wider problem, that football was worth covering up such crimes. While the football program has been fairly characterized as a "clean" program from an academic and NCAA perspective, it had clearly become a priority over more important matters. Unfortunately, this prioritization was demonstrated in one of the worst possible ways. And it ultimately emanated from one man: Paterno. With that and the whirlwind that followed the release of the indictments, it was clear that the only way to proceed was to let him go, and that is what the PSU board did.

Of course this is not to excuse the PSU administration from what was very poor handling of the situation. Reports of the grand jury investigation (including testimony by Paterno and the athletic director plus many further details) surfaced on March 31 of this year yet the university seemed stunned when this came out on November 5th. Immediately after word came out and the horrid details started to circulate, Spanier promptly put his "unconditional support" behind the two university officials charged and left it at that. Then, Penn State seemingly went into lockdown mode, releasing hardly any statement and making no public appearances until the infamous press conference on the evening of November 9th at which the fate of Paterno and Spanier was announced. In today's society, with the national media descended onto campus and students marching, it took them much too long to respond. While they ultimately made the right call for the bad situation, they could have headed a lot of it off by acting sooner: putting the involved parties on immediate leave and trying to head off the story that took a life of its own. And before worrying about the PR, they should have mentioned and apologized to the victims and shown their sincerity in remorse.

Another note on the fact that the graduate assistant mentioned in the grand jury report, Mike McQueary, the witness to the alleged 2002 incident, remains employed as an assistant coach and will, as of now, be coaching this Saturday [ed. note: McQueary has been placed on leave since jhodges wrote this column]. Many rightly question why he chose to take no action when he witnessed the crime and instead chose to run and only report it to Paterno the next day. Like I said in my earlier piece, I have no idea what I would have done and won't pass judgment on him; at the very least, he reported it to his superior. There is a lot in play (the perpetrator, Jerry Sandusky, is a close family friend) and maybe even more than anyone currently knows. What does seem to be the case is that the possibility is there that Paterno softened his words when sending the report up the ladder, and that seems to be a plausible explanation as of why Paterno was let go and McQueary remains employed (for now). There's more that may be in play (e.g. Whistleblower Statutes) but we likely won't know the whole story for some time as things play out in the court of law. But I will reserve complete judgment until the story has progressed further.

This is indeed a horrible situation that one would not wish on anyone. I have strong feelings but will not pretend like I have the answers or would have necessarily handled things better as I have the benefit of hindsight and distance. The ultimate criminal is Sandusky, and he will get his due via the justice system. It appears that the primary players that were not charged (Paterno and Spanier) have now received their due. This is an extremely complex story with twists and turns appearing almost every day, and it will continue to evolve for some time, even through the inevitable trials that are forthcoming. But we can all learn from what has and is happening and can hopefully make some good come of this.

Now that the immediate situation has been resolved as much as it can be, we can shift most of our focus back to football, though we will be continually reminded of what happened and can hopefully help the healing process for the victims here, victims of abuse around the country, and the rebuilding of an institution that has otherwise lived up to high ideals.

e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

Previous jhodges commentary

jhodges is the primary content provider of HailToPurple.com.  His commentary and game analyses appear regularly during the season and occasionally in the offseason.