Categories: Featured News

Joe Paterno Defenders Helped Reward the Enabling of Child Sexual Assault

Jo Becker of The New York Times revealed this morning that coach Joe Paterno of the Jerry Sandusky Penn State sexual assault of young boys scandal negotiated a $5.5 million exit as he was testifying in 2011. The headlines reads “Paterno Won Sweeter Deal Even as Scandal Played Out”.

Look what you can get if you are a beloved successful coach, even if you appear at the time to have covered up unspeakable abuse against children:

Mr. Paterno was to be paid $3 million at the end of the 2011 season if he agreed it would be his last. Interest-free loans totaling $350,000 that the university had made to Mr. Paterno over the years would be forgiven as part of the retirement package. He would also have the use of the university’s private plane and a luxury box at Beaver Stadium for him and his family to use over the next 25 years.

All totaled, it comes up to $5.5 million. How did he do it? Do you remember the angry mobs that defended him in 2011?

In the end, the board of trustees – bombarded with hate mail and threatened with a defamation lawsuit by Mr. Paterno’s family – gave the family virtually everything it wanted, with a package worth roughly $5.5 million. Documents show that the board even tossed in some extras that the family demanded, like the use of specialized hydrotherapy massage equipment for Mr. Paterno’s wife at the university’s Lasch Building, where Mr. Sandusky had molested a number of his victims.

Back then, angry fans were outraged that anyone would dare to defame Paterno’s reputation. They rioted and threatened the board members personally. This kind of angry mob protecting their hero is something you see often, especially in sexual abuse/rape accusations. No one wants to hear about how said hero might have ruined a child’s life, so they smear the victim and anyone who is giving the victims’ charges any credence. It’s trickle down intimidation.

Culturally, especially if the people involved are powerful, we protect the powerful in charge while defaming the alleged victims in an attempt to save our powerful hero. Yes, pretty much everyone does it, even if they won’t admit it to themselves. Unless they’ve been there or know someone who has been there or have some reason to understand the inherent power structure — or they read with an open mind and take the statistics at their face value and therefor understand that most cases of sexual assault never see the light of day.

In this case, Paterno was involved in a cover up for Sandusky – a cover up that allowed Sandusky to sexually assault many more young boys. Paterno argued against going to child protective services with the charges. Why did Paterno do this? Because he wanted to be fair to Sandusky; translation, he wanted his successful institution to continue being successful, its reputation in tact. So he chose to ignore the cries of the mother of a victim, and shut down any forward movement in even questioning Sandusky.

Paterno’s family and publicist et al – the entire legacy entourage – are still fighting to protect his name, even after an independent investigation found that Paterno among other university officials protected a “serial predator” in order to protect their institution and the coach’s reputation. Included in the report are such damning tidbits as:

Joe Paterno Knew In 1998
Paterno Gave Jerry Sandusky The Option To Keep Coaching “As Long As He Was The Coach”
Paterno Family Statement Blames Everyone But Joe Paterno, Who Is To Blame
In 1998, Jerry Sandusky Told State Officials And University Police That “He Had Done This With Other Children In The Past”
Janitors Didn’t Report Jerry Sandusky’s 2000 Rape Incident Because They Feared Joe Paterno Would Fire Them

There’s plenty more where that came from. So, where’s the shame? Where’s the responsibility?

Paterno failed to report the incidents that he knew about from as far back as 1998, and even failed to ask Sandusky about them. The sickening cover up was rounded up by veteran sports writer Rick Reilly of ESPN, who takes us along for the ride as he examines his own conscience by acknowledging that he too bought into the sainthood of Joe Paterno.

Referring to former FBI director Louis Freeh’s Penn State investigation, Reilly, with exemplary self-examination and courage, slogs through the heart-breaking truth (read the entire column):

Paterno knew about a mother’s cry that Sandusky had molested her son in 1998. Later, Paterno lied to a grand jury and said he didn’t. …

What a stooge I was.

Here’s a legacy for you. Paterno’s cowardice and ego and fears allowed Sandusky to molest at least eight more boys in the years after that 1998 incident — Victims 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9 and 10. Just to recap: By not acting, a grown man failed to protect eight boys from years of molestation, abuse and self-loathing, all to save his program the embarrassment.

Here’s the gold:

What a chump I was.

I tweeted that, yes, Paterno should be fired, but that he was, overall, “a good and decent man.” I was wrong. Good and decent men don’t do what Paterno did. Good and decent men protect kids, not rapists.

And his chilling conclusion:

That professor was right, all those years ago. I was engaging in hagiography. So was that school. So was that town. It was dangerous. Turns out it builds monsters.

Not all of them ended up in prison.

Yes, when we refuse to even question the powerful in the face of accusations, we unwittingly become part of creating a bigger monster. At what point are we accountable for that?

You’ll often hear people talk about what a “good person” so and so is – how they are only being accused because he is a great hero and others are jealous. Even after the truth comes to light, people will go to any lengths to defend the guilty, often acting in mob packs against the innocent or those who are just trying to protect the innocent.

So the questions I want to put forth are one, at what point is someone no longer a good person? Just how many doors to destruction can a person open, how many times can they look the other way in order to advance power or an agenda, and still be a good person? Once? Never? For ten years?

And two, why is it culturally acceptable to defend a “good man” against allegations made by a young victim, whether that man is a priest, a coach, a father, or people benefiting from that man’s power and position, but at the same time, culturally acceptable to assault the victims’ characters, motives, history, and veracity? Why the double standard?

At even the hint of an accusation of sexual misconduct, the defenders of the hero will viciously attack the victims — citing his reputation, good deeds and important work — with an outrage and anger that begs examination.

No one is above this behavior. No one. Until we all examine our beliefs and our assumptions, the Penn State scandal is relegated a tragedy bound to be soon repeated.

A person can both chose to believe their hero is innocent and not attack the alleged victim for speaking up… Unless of course they are that awful “cheerleader” who can broker no criticism or questioning of their hero.

Enter Joe Paterno and his angry mob of defenders.

There is no excuse for being a vicious, frothing mob – even if proven right later — and yet too often and too late, it’s revealed that the mob got it wrong.

They were wrong in the Paterno case. But it’s a little late – the damage is done. The children were sexually assaulted. The university had to make a huge payout thanks in part to the angry mob’s refusal to broker for one moment that a man can be both really important and doing good work and also a coward — a broker of unpardonable sin.

But that sort of thinking only shows a failure to grasp what power can do – any kind of power – to people with weak characters. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” – and absolute power is too often backed by a mob of angry, uninformed minions defending those in power from their perceived enemies with such a vengeance that they never stop to wonder —

Is it possible that these accusations are worth considering?

What would have happened if anyone had asked that question? How many victims might have been saved, if anyone along the way had bothered to question power?

The mobs never seem to get that they are engaging in a culture of intimidation against sexual assault victims that is so inherently accepted in our culture, it passes by without comment. They are, ironically, tools being used to protect the powerful from ever having to answer a charge.

No, you don’t have to believe the person is guilty, but when we behave as if some people are above the law and should not have to answer even an accusation, we are part of the problem. Are some people just above being questioned? We already know the answer to this question, and the hideous result of our cowardice is staring us in the face.

The statistics don’t lie. Given the very low rate of reporting on sexual assault of any kind, and even lower rate of prosecuting, by the time you’ve heard of it, it was already ignored, threatened, shut down, stamped on, and mocked by several layers of protections/protectors of the institution (whether that institution is the church, the sports program, the family, the federal contractor, or a small town).

Given that fact, the charges don’t deserve the immediate frothing rage they are too often met with and the victims don’t deserve to be dragged through the mud and metaphorically lynched for speaking up. The odds of false reporting are very low, so that means that we are most likely attacking a person who was already sexually assaulted. Those are the odds, mind you. The mathematical odds. And yet in every case, the example of someone who lied will be used as justification for the verbal assault against the alleged victim. See how that works? It’s illogical, it protects the guilty, and it’s not okay.

Again, we can do both things: Not assume the guilt of the accused, and not attack the alleged victim for speaking up. We can ask a question. At some point, people will realize that the whole culture of silence, the refusal to ask the question, is the problem and it’s also the solution.

Because most often when people refuse to ask the question, they have an agenda at play. They do not want the truth to come out, because they would lose their hero, their faith, their world. So they choose to ruin the world of the alleged victim in order to save their own.

Is this the kind of people we are? Privilege knows no bounds, whereas shame is hard to come by these days.

Paterno died on January 22 of this year. After his death, his family was still demanding the use of the university jet and box seats.

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