On Joe Paterno and Societal Responsibilities

Joe Paterno was fired from his position as head football coach at Penn State University on Tuesday. The details of the alleged child sexual abuse case involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky can easily be obtained from any news source. Here is a link to the Grand Jury report that led to the uncovering of the “cover ups” and I must warn you, the details in it are very graphic but I strongly suggest you read it to understand the details of the crime, witnesses and inaction in the face of a mountain of evidence. (Grand Jury report: Downloaded from CBS Chicago website on Wednesday Nov 10).

As soon as the Penn State Board of Trustees (BoT) announced their decision to terminate the employment of Paterno on Tuesday night as the head football coach (and Graham Spanier was fired from the position of University President), student protests (and riots) began in the university campus and the surrounding areas. I have read and seen plenty of message boards and social networking sites with current students and alumni expressing their support for Paterno and some even going as far as saying he is a victim in all this.

As much as it is within the rights of the students to protest, I find the logic behind it absolutely disgusting, and here is why.

To make my stance absolutely clear, I do not agree with the view that Joe Paterno is a victim in all this and in my opinion, it was the right decision by the BoT to fire Paterno especially after he accorded himself the luxury of staying on as the head coach till the end of this season, when he could have just as easily tendered his resignation.

To say that Paterno is a victim is an outrageous statement to make. Yes, Paterno followed protocol in that he reported it to his superiors, so he is not in any messy “legal” waters but there is a moral issue here, and it is relevant to the fiber that societies are built upon and that is the moral obligation to take action when you see something wrong and to protect the defenseless. Wars have been fought and millions have sacrificed their lives for these two ideals: Protect the innocent and to make a stand when someone has been wronged.

Paterno (and others involved in the chain of command) decided to do the absolute minimum and pass the buck to the higher authority, while trying to protect the reputation of the football program and perhaps the university. According to the state of Pennsylvania’s mandatory reporting statute for suspected child abuse (23 Pa. Cons. Stat. ยง 6311):

A person who, in the course of employment, occupation or practice of a profession, comes into contact with children shall report or cause a report to be made in accordance with section 6313 (relating to reporting procedure) when the person has reasonable cause to suspect, on the basis of medical, professional or other training and experience, that a child under the care, supervision, guidance or training of that person or of an agency, institution, organization or other entity with which that person is affiliated is a victim of child abuse, including child abuse by an individual who is not a perpetrator.

The fact that so many people in so many different positions of power, authority and responsibility did not take the most logical step of reporting the situation to the local law enforcement agencies or child protection services -either they did not want to take that extra step or were driven by a selfish need to protect themselves and the reputation of a famous football program at a prestigious university – is not only in violation of the aforementioned statute but is also appalling.

Put yourselves in the shoes of a parent of one of these kids. Would that parent report it to their superior and wait for any action, or would you be calling the law enforcement authorities immediately? Paterno is entrusted with the lives of scores of young men every year and he has miserably failed in carrying out the most basic humanly decent obligation to society. This applies equally to Graham Spanier as well. By the same token, I find it disgusting that Mike McQueary will continue to be on the sidelines this weekend when Penn State plays Nebraska. [Update, 9.40 PM, Nov 10: GoPSUSports.com reports that McQueary will not be on the sidelines]

Penn State University is much larger than its football program. It is a place of higher learning where the minds of future leaders and responsible citizens of the world are molded. When the gatekeepers of the virtues of human society, dignity and responsibility – our teachers and coaches – will not uphold the morals that we seek to find in ourselves, it is highly disturbing. I hope that a thorough investigation of the situation is carried out and every (and any) person that had the knowledge of the issue and did not act on it (by act, i mean report to law enforcement agencies) is disassociated from the university to regain the institution’s honor. This should serve as a lesson and a reminder that we all have a moral obligation and responsibility to stand up for what is right and protect the defenseless.

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