You can call Joe Paterno a coward and I wouldn’t disagree with you.
You can say that if Paterno would have followed through on his report, Jerry Sandusky would have been a sexual predator behind bars instead of a sexual predator roaming campus, luring young boys, and living in the comforts that his Penn State job provided him. You can say that because of the way the allegations against Sandusky were handled, the Penn State name has been tarnished, a cloud has been invited to hover over the famously successful football program, and a myriad of students and alumni are ashamed and disgusted. And again, I wouldn’t disagree with you.
But Joe Paterno shouldn’t have to leave his job unless he wants to; of this I am certain.
For the record, I don’t follow football and I didn’t go to Penn State.
For those of you unaware of the news that has swept over Happy Valley these past several days, I advise you to Google Jerry Sandusky. Or if you prefer (and think you can handle the wincing you will undoubtedly do as you read it), here is the Grand Jury Report on the matter. It’s unpleasant. It’s the story of young boys being treated badly by a man lacking integrity.
To put it mildly.
There is a rapidly growing consensus that because Paterno did what was required of him by law and no more, he should not stay on as coach of the Penn State football team. The number of media outlets calling for Joe Paterno’s resignation and/or touting his moral failure include The Tribune Review, the Star-Ledger, Sports Illustrated, NBC Sports, ESPN Radio, The Altoona Mirror, and a myriad of others.
Perhaps the loudest resonating of these is that of The Patriot News Editorial Board, which featured a front page stating: “There are the obligations we all have to uphold the law. There are then the obligations we all have to do what is right.”
I entirely disagree.
We don’t have any obligation to do what is right. As a society, we have agreed that we have an obligation to do what is law. Though we would like to think that people feel morally obligated one way or another above and beyond the call of the law, the fact remains that our obligation insomuch as that we can be held accountable and hold others accountable stops where the law stops. We are only obligated to do what is required of us, which is exactly what Joe Paterno did. Having had a report brought to him about Sandusky’s alleged sexually inappropriate act, he reported the matter to his superiors – one of whom (Schulz) was an administrative head of the campus police.
But people don’t disagree that he did what was legally required of him. In fact, both the Attorney General and the PA State Police Commissioner stated that there has been no legal wrongdoing on the part of Paterno. The problem is that people believe that when nothing came of the report, Paterno should have done more. He should have gone above and beyond what was simply required of him and met a higher standard – a super-legal standard – a moralstandard.
For failing this, call him a coward – fine. Say that he has morally failed – fair. But you cannot take away a man’s job because of either of those reasons.
The graduate assistant saw a young boy being raped with his own eyes and yet we do not focus our wrath on him. Paterno reported the incident to his superiors, who were legally obligated to report it. They did not. And yet we are not content to focus our wrath only on them. We want Joe, because while we agree that he did what was required of him, we believe that what was required of him was not enough.
I believe that’s our problem as a society, not his. If we want to hold people to a higher standard, then we must improve the state of our legislation. We must require more of people. We must see to it that the bare minimum is enough. Because in examples such as this, that is all people will do and it fails to protect the innocent.
I don’t believe Paterno should have to leave his post as the PSU football coach because I don’t think we should be in the business of asking people to leave their jobs because they fail morally. Yes, I think he could have and should have done more. Yes, I think there’s something wrong with the structure of report within the University’s guidelines. Yes, I think that had something more been done, a plethora of boys could have been spared alleged victimization by Sandusky.
But I don’t think Penn State can implement a reporting structure that has clearly failed and then penalize one of its employees when they fail to go above and beyond that reporting structure. Likewise, we cannot agree that Paterno did nothing illegal and seek punishment nonetheless.
Joe Paterno did what was required of him and no more. He could have, and he should have. We can call him a coward, we can say that he morally failed, but we should not call on him to resign. ♣
Update: Paterno announced that he would retire at the end of the season in the wake of the PSU scandal, saying that that Board need not spend any time on figuring out how to handle the situation because they had more important matters to address. Sadly, the Board of Trustees at PSU fired Joe Paterno via a hand-delivered letter on Wednesday, November 9th.