Thank You, Penn State

Posted in: Criminal Law

I am a big fan of Penn State’s academics, where I attended graduate school. When “analytical” philosophy swept the nation’s universities in the early 1980s, displacing continental philosophy, Penn State had one of the few remaining departments teaching continental (translation: European philosophy). Leaving Vanderbilt where I had happily been an undergrad, I declined the offer from Yale’s philosophy department because I was told I would have to abandon continental for “real” philosophy.  Instead of New Haven, I headed to State College. I studied with some of the top continental scholars in the world at Penn State and will be forever grateful for the opportunity to study Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche in depth, whose writings have played pivotal roles in my law and religion scholarship and my understanding of the dynamic between religion and the culture.

When I then decided on a Master’s degree in fiction writing at Penn State, again I had first-rate professors, like the brilliant Paul West. There, in the English Department, Joe Paterno was a hero because his football program routinely funded major aspects of the English program.  This was a remarkable marriage of academics and football, and I was proud of it.

Then when the Sandusky scandal hit, I had to give Penn State at least some credit for not dragging survivors through the scorched earth litigation tactics of too many institutions, hiring a respected outsider, Louis Freeh, to do an independent investigation, and for settling in a fair and relatively straightforward way with as many survivors as possible.  No lawyer had a majority of the Sandusky cases and so no one knew what Penn State was doing with all cases, but it was common knowledge that Penn State wasn’t even raising the statute of limitations defense, which is now the mark of the Catholic bishops’ treatment of the victims.

Paterno Knew in the 1970s, Just Like the Bishops Knew Decades Ago

Now I am grateful to Penn State for quite a different reason: thank you, Penn State, for further teaching the public that the Catholic bishops do not own a patent on long-term ignoring and covering up child sex abuse.  There were reasons to see parallels before now, as I discussed here, but the latest report tells us that Paterno and other coaches knew over a decade earlier than was originally reported. The bishops fight sex abuse victims in the state legislatures with self-righteous vehemence, and make the argument that statute of limitations reform “targets” them as though they are the only entity that has engaged in the cover up of serial pedophiles. The mighty Penn State puts the lie to their narcissism.

When the Sandusky scandal broke, it proved to the world that the issue of institution-based child sex abuse is a society-wide problem, not one isolated to particular institutions. There have been remarkable moments in the Penn State story, not the least of which is that Joe Paterno himself, before he died, said he didn’t do all he should have done. This was a contrite statement, and he deserves to be remembered for this moment of humanity. What do his “fans” say in response? Of course he did everything because he was Joe Pa! Joe Pa can’t be responsible for covering up for pedophiles!

These silly, mindless defenses echoed the earlier claims that the bishops “meant well” and that they were the real victims of the child predators.  To state their early world view mathematically: the bishops = good guys, while the priest pedophiles = bad guys. Of course the more we learned, the more clearly wrong this dichotomy became.  The guys perpetuating the abuse and granting leeway for suspected pedophiles to have access to more children also created the conditions for the abuse.

Now, we learn, as a result of the dispute between Penn State and its insurers, that it settled claims of abuse arising as early as 1971. This is well before the abuse dates previously disclosed. In the immortal words of Captain Renault: I’m shocked! Not that claims pre-date the 80s or even that they go back as far as 1971, but that they don’t go back to 1963 when Sandusky arrived on the Penn State campus to be a defensive coach.

Paterno’s dissemblers at the University and in his family declared in response to these new revelations that there was no “clear evidence” that Paterno knew. Really? How is it possible at this late date, scandal after scandal and post Spotlight, for them not to hear themselves? Knee-jerk denial does no one any good, particularly when we are dealing with a confirmed serial child predator. There is a thing called decency.

So let’s assume Paterno knew in the early 70s.  Why would he have kept his knowledge about Sandusky quiet? Well, by the early 1970s, Sandusky had transformed Penn State football into Linebacker U and in 1973 they went undefeated. The program was clearly on the way to the very top, and with Sandusky as defensive coordinator Penn State would win national championships in 1982 and 1986.  Paterno knew and chose to keep Sandusky. Why? Because it served his ends. And because children are dispensable, especially the ones in Sandusky’s Second Mile charity, which drew from a population of boys with troubled homes.  This is precisely the same reason the bishops let children suffer and the same reason the Solebury School ignored a long history of abuse on its campus, not to mention Horace Mann, Poly Prep, the Boy Scouts, and on and on.

Penn State fans now have a new choice: continue to make Joe Pa a saint despite the facts, or help the survivors find justice by desisting with your empty defenses. Denial that will drag down Penn State even farther or justice for the kids that suffered? To quote Kierkegaard, it is “Either/Or.”

  • Dom Greco

    This article is an appeal to both ignorance and emotion for the following reasons:

    What knowledge?

    It claims that “Paterno Knew in the 1970s”, but then does not state exactly what Joe Paterno knew, so as to leave the readers to make their own assumptions regarding what was known.

    What evidence?

    The author of the article does not stated in the article any evidentiary basis to support her claims against Joe Paterno, but instead includes a hyperlink to another article, without stating what in that other article supports her accusation against Paterno. Of course, the author did that knowing that the vast majority of readers of her article will not take the time to look at the article she hyperlinks to see if it supports her claims.

    However, when one does read the hyperlinked article that serves as her “authority” one readily sees that the article does not contain any credible evidence to support her conclusions, but instead states that her conclusions are merely based upon “An allegation now about an alleged event 40 years ago, as represented by a single line in a court document regarding an insurance issue, with no corroborating evidence”.

    Unsubstantiated claims by such claimant who is now seeking money from an insurance company made against someone, such as Paterno, who has since died, and cannot therefore now dispute the truthfulness of the claims, are certainly open to question as to their accuracy and bias.

    Silly mindless knee-jerk denial?

    The author characterizes the Joe Paterno defenses to the accusations against him as being “silly, mindless defenses”. The author does not present any evidence to show that Joe Paterno had firsthand knowledge of the wrongful acts of Sandusky, so is it fair for the author consider such a defense as a “silly mindless knee-jerk denial”.

    The author does not deny that when Joe Paterno was told that someone else may have seen evidence of the wrongful acts of Sandusky that Joe Paterno then promptly passed along that rumor to the appropriate University officials for appropriate investigation in compliance with the applicable University rules.

    Implicit in the article is the author’s belief that if you hear a rumor, but you do not have any firsthand knowledge of the truthfulness of the rumor, you should call the police and report the rumor. I question whether the reporter herself follow such a practice of calling the police whenever she hears rumors alleging that others have done illegal things. I doubt that she does or has. She did not said that she does.

    Assume Paterno knew?

    Then, if the article is not ridiculous enough, the author says “So let’s assume Paterno knew”. In other words, let’s assume that Paterno is guilty. I thought that people are presumed to be innocent, until proven guilty.

    However, the author of this article, despite being an attorney and the law professor, does not want to be hindered by the legally mandated presumption of innocence in her inflammatory claims against Joe Paterno, so she has determined it appropriate to disregard the presumption of innocence and call that “decency”.

    One has to wonder –

    So it appears to me that this article represents is merely a series of unfair, unsupported and illogical accusations made by someone who should know better.

    However, it is certainly an excellent emotional appeal to people who want to jump to conclusions and welcome an opportunity to read articles written by someone who wants to support their emotional inclinations and beliefs, even though those inclinations and beliefs that are not supported by fairness, decency, credible evidence or the law.

    What evidence is there to the contrary –

    If anyone reading this reply knows of any credible objective evidence contrary to what I have stated, I invite them to reply with a citation to that evidence so that it may be considered, and so, if I am wrong, I can stand corrected.


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  • Martyn Iv

    The author does her critical thinking professors a disservice.

    She uses circular logic to argue that Paterno knew about Sandusky’s pedophilia, then uses that unsubstantiated assumption for the rest of her writing.

    She ignores that Paterno for over 60 years had a spotless NCAA record that directly affected the behavior of all other Penn State varsity sports, to suggest Paterno would condone one of society’s most heinous acts despite this unrivaled achievement. She claims enabling or ignoring Sandusky served Paterno’s ends, against all documented history that his ends had nothing to do with winning or reputation.

    She associates a concept that “children are dispensable” to a three time father, again with no direct evidence that Paterno subscribed to her philosophy on children. Sandusky’s chief prosecutor is on record declaring that Paterno played no part in enabling or covering up Sandusky’s crimes. Until the author demonstrates that she possesses at least as good an understanding of the case as Fina, her opinion should be dismissed with contempt.

    • Dom Greco

      I agree with your comment that “the author does her critical thinking professors a disservice”. My perception is that increasingly independent “critical thinking” has been replaced in the academic community in particular, and in the media in general, by “advocacy” of emotionally appealing and popular beliefs and points of view, that are put forth supported not by citation to supporting independent objective credible evidence, but instead by the author advocates favored assumptions, presumptions, and cherry picked facts.

      While the academic community may state that its purpose is to train the mind to think critically, and to encourage critical thinking, this article, and so much of what I increasingly see in print, appears to me to instead encourage acceptance and adoption of popular points of view and conclusions, rather than the critical questioning and testing of such points of view and conclusions.

      But perhaps articles that appeal to “critical thinking” have gone out of fashion and are not sufficiently popular with readers these days, and do not generate as much desirable web traffic, which appears to be the “holy grail” of the Internet, as articles such as this that appeal instead to readers emotions and preconceived beliefs. Something to think about.

  • haley

    Because child abuse should be more important than the “God Almighty Penn State Football”.