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Don’t Blame Joe

Given the nature of Jerry Sandusky’s alleged crimes, and just how complicit some highly-respected members of the Penn State family are said to have been, it’s hard to be outraged about anything else.

This is a dark day for our university, likely the darkest. There is no silver lining to what has happened. And what’s far worse than the black mark that this will leave on Penn State is how the alleged affair irreversibly changed the lives of so many young children.

It is a tragedy of the utmost proportions.

But those who have been more willing to try this case in the court of public opinion rather than in front of a jury have been indiscriminate in their blame at best, and sensationalist at worst. They’ve placed the reproach at the feet of Joe Paterno, occasionally moreso than anyone else. Not because he’s the most culpable–he’s not, by any remote stretch of the imagination–but because he’s the biggest name involved.

And that’s simply not right.

Had Joe Paterno been in on the cover-up, he wouldn’t have made sure to follow procedure by informing his superior, Tim Curley, what he was reportedly told by the graduate assistant. From a legal standpoint, Paterno’s involvement ends there.

Could Joe have done more? Maybe. I’m sure he feels guilty, and dirty over what happened. Even those who had no involvement internally must wish they could’ve done something.

But keep in mind that the Grand Jury report is only the state making its case. It’s not a complete record of everything that happened over a ten year span within the Penn State administration. We don’t know what happened, and slinging accusations at a man who has defined honor over his entire lifetime is not only unfair to Paterno, but it takes the blame away from those who most deserve it.

Even the Grand Jury report vindicates Paterno’s role, with prosecutors saying he acted appropriately, given the circumstances. But while he followed procedure, those above Paterno are the ones the state says didn’t.

When Mike McQueary came to Paterno, and told him what he had seen in that locker room, let’s not pretend that he would go into graphic detail. Be human for a moment, and put yourself in McQueary’s shoes. If there’s been anything said that makes sense, it’s the statement Paterno released, where he says that it was obvious that McQueary was distraught. Would you really want to relive what you saw the previous day? If anyone responded with the appropriate action, it was Paterno going to his superior the very next day, and letting him know that this needed to be investigated.

And Curley turned to Gary Schultz, who wasn’t some random bureaucrat. Schultz had under his purview as Vice President of Business and Finance overview of University Police, which had jurisdiction. According to the Grand Jury, it was Schultz and Curley who hatched up the scheme to slap Sandusky on the wrist for the 2002 incident, and not pursue a police investigation.

If true, it’s hard to have any respect for either man in any capacity. Again, we live in a country in which innocence is presumed–much to the chagrin of some national media–and so it’s entirely premature to strap these men down into the electric chair.

Whether it’s true or not, it undeniably absolves Joe Paterno of any legal responsibility. He went to his boss–joke all you want about football running things at Penn State, but that’s simply a hyperbole. The fact is, his responsibility is to the football team, not investigating allegations against one of his ex-assistants. In March of 2002, he was coaching his team in spring practice, and scouting high school recruits. Doing his job. And he undoubtedly had reason to trust that Tim Curley, Graham Spanier, and the rest of Penn State’s administration could handle this.

It’s not his fault they didn’t.

Granted, we still don’t know what happened. The Grand Jury report is the state making its case, and it’s very convincing. But as hard as it is to maintain restraint, we need to do so. Until Schultz, Curley, and Sandusky are tried, we need to avoid jumping to conclusions. But if the allegations are true, and we take them at face value, it’s clear who the villains are.

Until I’m presented with evidence to the contrary, I choose to trust a man who has made it his life goal to make a positive impact on the community around him. Joe Paterno is a man who, until yesterday, was of unimpeachable moral character. It is Paterno who has put Penn State, and Penn State football, on a pedestal, and Paterno who has lived up to that reputation before anything else. I refuse to believe that he would be complicit in this sordid affair.

In 1998, University Police launched an investigation into allegations against Jerry Sandusky, but then-District Attorney Ray Gricar declined to press charges. For all Paterno knew, this situation could’ve been parallel. Or perhaps he wasn’t informed of what had happened four years earlier. Either way, if Curley and Schultz were willing to cover-up alleged sexual abuse, is it so much of a stretch to suggest that they might lie to Paterno, and tell him that they were taking the case head-on? Is it so wrong for Paterno to take a back seat while administrators did their job, and then for him  to assume that they acted responsibly?

For me, that’s more likely than the converse, that Joe knew that his longtime defensive coordinator was a child predator, and did nothing to act. That Joe abandoned his strict moral code when he needed it to guide him most.

Perhaps I’m only buying into and furthering the myth of Joe Paterno. But in his case, and his only, I choose to wait before I condemn.

Because he’s earned that right.

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About the Author

Devon Edwards

Devon is a 2012 Penn State graduate and current law student at NYU. Devon joined Onward State in January of 2011, after a lengthy stay in the comment section. His likes include sabermetrics, squirrels, and longs walks on the beach, and his dislikes include spelunking, when you put your clothes in the dryer and they come out still kinda damp but also warm, and the religious right.

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