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Joe Paterno, R.I.P.

[ 69 ] January 22, 2012 |

I assume Paul will have more. ESPN has a front page article arguing that his “legacy outweighs the scandal.” I believe this is the more plausible account:

I know that child assault comments directed at Paterno are old hat and may seem predictable and a little cheap. But let’s be clear, here: when given the chance, Joe Paterno failed one of the biggest and yet most basic tests of humanity. This wasn’t a nebulously complex philosophical quandary or a snaking series of indistinguishable forks in the road.

Like the last decade of watching journalists and policymakers trying to decide if torture is “okay” or preemptive warfare permitted without evidence, this was one of those baldly self-evident challenges posed to an adult in society, and those who refuse to meet it should have the odium of their failure linger next to their name, into the grave and onward. Their winning percentage elsewhere is immaterial: when you add that loss to the equation, all else plummets toward zero. They failed.

Comments (69)

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  1. Gator90 says:

    As far as I’m concerned, they can put “enabler of child molestation” on his tombstone.

  2. John Protevi says:

    A man’s death demands that we look to his life — not just the last 12 weeks, swollen and inflamed by the heat of the vengeful — but 62 years of coaching young men at one university. A legacy covers more than 12 weeks.

    “Vengeful”? Oy. Maisel has had weeks to write this obit and he puts “vengeful” in there? Oy again.

    • DrDick says:

      It was rather more than 12 weeks of disgraceful conduct, it was decades of actively covering up child molestation. This is his most enduring legacy, as all of those children will have to live with the pain for the rest of their lives, long after his football accomplishments are relegated to trivia.

      • John Protevi says:

        Excellent point. Jack McCallum at SI misses the point here too:

        Paterno’s final chapter should, by the hardbound terms of traditional journalism, begin with the tawdry story of Sandusky, which colored — nay, dominated — the final three months of his life. But even most of those who have been critical (including me) of Paterno’s failure to act when alerted about inappropriate behavior between Sandusky and an underage boy would agree that this extraordinary man deserves an obituary without mention of Sandusky, who is facing multiple charges of sexual abuse against children.

        Alas, a Sandusky-less obit cannot happen. But put aside for a moment those last few tragic months and remember what Paterno meant to so many.

        Maybe it’s a déformation professionnelle but these journalist don’t seem to get it that the scandal story may have broken late, but the scandalous events that happened long ago and that continued for a long time. It’s not just what happened in 1994 (Sandusky’s first accusation, IIRC) or 1999 (his “retirement”) or 2002 or whatever, it’s the entire period from 94 to 2012 that matters, not the last few weeks of 2011.

  3. Don K says:

    There was a time when Paterno was kind of a hero of mine, but that ended. As far as I’m concerned, his career is defined by the revelations of the past few months.

  4. Just like when Bill Casey flipped his canoe, expect a whole lot of “The dead guy did it!” ass-covering from the other implicated parties.

  5. Daragh McDowell says:

    I dislike terms like ‘abuse’ and ‘molestation’ – unfortunately they’ve become far too euphemistic. Paterno (from what I’ve read of the story) shielded a man who tortured children by raping them for over a decade. The fact that ESPN’s editors would consider such a headline remotely appropriate, and that it WON’T lead to a News of the World style implosion for ESPN, tells us a lot about how screwed up contemporary US society is.

    • Gator90 says:

      Excellent point.

    • N__B says:

      Not to mention media use of the words “sex” and “relationship.” As you say, rape is the only appropriate term.

    • mark f says:

      Indeed, Paterno used just those sorts of minimizing terms to shield himself from any responsibility. I.e., he just didn’t realize that McQueary saw rape, just some horsing around. And anyway, who knew that boys could be raped?

    • Bart says:

      Can anyone explain the difference between the terms, sexually abused and raped?

      As I recall Lara Logan from CNN was said to have been sexually abused in Egypt, leaving doubt about whether she was grouped or raped.

      • Daragh McDowell says:

        Sexual abuse is abusing a person in a sexual manner or for sexual gratification. Its a very broad catch-all term under which rape falls, but in the same way that genital electrocution falls under ‘assault.’ Calling these things abuse or assault may be correct, but also tend to be euphemistic (though it must be said, not necessarily due to the fault of the user.)

  6. efgoldman says:

    I turned on ESPN2 this morning, looking for The Sports Reporters, and instead found non-stop hagiography.
    :::click:::

    • Charlie Sweatpants says:

      ESPN’s editorial policy is so bent toward self serving whitewash that the publishers of Izvestia and Pravda would be embarrassed. But even they can’t save Paterno’s legacy. He’s permanently linked with Sandusky.

  7. Western Dave says:

    We all like to think we know how to do the right thing. But we don’t. As a summer camp counselor for an outdoor ed program, I had a camper who kept getting mysterious illnesses. The whole thing smacked of “I’ve got a secret” of either the “I don’t know how to come out” kind or the “someone is hurting me kind.” After yet another emergency room trip, this time from some serious backcountry, in which the doctor agreed that she was probably keeping secrets, we had to send the girl home. This turned out to be the worst possible move. It turns out her father was the abuser. This was discovered when she was doing in-patient treatment several months later. As far as I know the doctor who saw her at the emergency room didn’t report anything, and I could only report vague suspicions to my boss the camp director. Did I fail this girl? Absolutely. Could I have done anything differently? This event has haunted me most of adult life and I still don’t know that I could have done anything differently.

    Look, I think Paterno was a total MCP who had completely antiquated views about sex. But I am very, very hesitant to condemn him more than others in the case.

    • DrDick says:

      It is not a question of blaming him more than others, but of not ignoring his very important role in enabling this. You at least tried to do what you could for the camper, but what was actually possible for you was relatively minimal under the circumstances (I cannot speak to the doctor’s actions). You may have failed the girl, but it was not from a lack of trying. Paterno did not even do that and he had far greater resources at his disposal.

    • Furious Jorge says:

      You weren’t the most powerful person in that kid’s father’s world, so no. You did what you could, which in that situation was not a lot.

    • Anonymous says:

      But there is a very clear difference between your situation and Paterno’s. You had suspicious but no clear evidence that something wrong had happened, and if so, who was responsible. There’s only so much you can do there, especially when the victim doesn’t say anything. Paterno had ample reports of directly-witnessed incidents and reports from victims, and there was no question about who the perpetrator was.

      • Western Dave says:

        I get all that. And like a lot of folks here, I think Paterno fired the rapist because he was a rapist and made sure he never worked again. But I also wonder how much Paterno knew about the first investigation and it’s failure to go to trial. After the McMartin case, a lot of prosecutors turned gun-shy on sex abuse stories (as far as I know, in the story I told above, the father was never prosecuted – or even defrocked from his ministerial position; his wife divorced him, his daughter was institutionalized etc. etc.). I could see Paterno feeling like there was never going to be a conviction of the guy so what was the point beyond getting him blackballed from his career etc. Hell people may have actually told him that after the first investigation.

        • Yes, but... says:

          YMMV, but I just don’t buy in any way that Paterno didn’t know about the 1998 investigation. This is Div1 college football – those guys know when a flea farts in the equipment room, especially one of Paterno’s ilk and years in his position.

        • Halloween Jack says:

          I could see Paterno feeling like there was never going to be a conviction of the guy so what was the point beyond getting him blackballed from his career etc.

          You mean, besides keeping him away from boys?

  8. Incontinentia Buttocks says:

    I don’t think the revelations of covering up child abuse are–or should be–the entirety of Paterno’s legacy. People, even people who do great evil, are complicated. Roman Polanski is a great filmmaker and a child rapist and a fugutive from justice.

    But I think in a fair assessment of Paterno’s life his actions in the Sandusky matter loom very, very large and cannot in any sense be brushed away as a “unfortunate” “final chapter.”

    Assuming he is trying to write an actually fair biography, I don’t envy Joe Posnanski’s task.

    • Furious Jorge says:

      But we roundly criticize idiots who argue that Chinatown somehow excuses Polanski from raping a teenage girl. That’s what ESPN is doing today, and it’s sickening.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

        Absolutely. I agree entirely both about using Chinatown to excuse Polanski’s rape and about how ESPN is coverning Paterno’s death.

        • Furious Jorge says:

          Yes, I realize now that we actually agree – I read your initial comment a bit too quickly, and I think I misunderstood you. Sorry ’bout that.

      • John says:

        Sure. At the same time, we shouldn’t dismiss Chinatown because Polanski raped a teenage girl.

    • DrDick says:

      I think my perspective is informed by the fact that I do not give a damn about football and if he were the greatest coach who ever lived, I would still regard it as a trivial accomplishment. I do credit him with ensuring that his players got an education and graduated, but the fact that it is even notable is much more of an indictment of collegiate athletics, since that is the bare minimum we should expect of collegiate coaches.

  9. Bill says:

    Coach K on TV blaming Paterno’s being fired for his early death

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      To the extent that the stress of getting fired harms your health, my guess is that the stress of covering up child rape for decades doesn’t do it much good either….though neither, as far as I’m aware, greatly increases the risk of lung cancer.

  10. Murc says:

    Even disregarding the whole “accessory to child rape” thing… am I allowed to say that even if that had never happened in any way, Paterno is still kind of overblown?

    The man did his job very well for many years. This is something to be applauded. But that job was “football coach.” He spent his life helping very young adults win games. Literally games. It’s nice that he was able to earn a comfortable living doing so. But it doesn’t make him some kind of titan among men, a role model who we should all strive to emulate. Plenty of people do their jobs well for many years and add way more value than Joe Paterno ever did.

    And that’s without even getting into discussions about his complicity in a system that exploits those game-playing young adults for the benefit of a tiny handful of people and institutions.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      Paterno was also a great patron of the educational mission of Penn State. I’m not at all suggesting that excuses any of the covering up of child rape (indeed to the extent that the narrative about Paterno was that, unlike other big-time college coaches, he did it right, it makes the rape-enabling all the more damning). But Paterno’s fame did not rest merely on his coaching and his supposed impact on his players.

      • Murc says:

        Huh. I’ve had the news on in the background all day, and everyone talking about Paterno has so far neglected to mention his support of Penn’s educational mission in any way.

        It’s all “he made boys into men” and “leadership” and “role model” and “sportsmanship”.

    • Uncle Kvetch says:

      The man did his job very well for many years. This is something to be applauded. But that job was “football coach.” He spent his life helping very young adults win games. Literally games. It’s nice that he was able to earn a comfortable living doing so. But it doesn’t make him some kind of titan among men, a role model who we should all strive to emulate. Plenty of people do their jobs well for many years and add way more value than Joe Paterno ever did.

      Thank you. This needed saying.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

        The point is that Paterno did things of value beyond coach football. Ask Michael Bérubé.

        Those other things of value may be overhyped. And they certainly don’t excuse (or excede) the covering up of the child rape.

        But just as it’s wrong to dismiss the quality of Roman Polanski’s films on the basis of the fact that he is a child rapist, it’s wrong to claim that all Paterno ever did of value was coach football.

        • Uncle Kvetch says:

          it’s wrong to claim that all Paterno ever did of value was coach football

          But that’s what’s what he’s being deified for, IB. If certain people are finding it somehow unseemly to mention the fact that he was an enabler of serial child rape, it’s not because of his support for the educational mission at Penn State, but because he coached a winning football team.

          I think Murc’s comment is getting at something very important, something that goes way beyond Joe Paterno and Penn State. The deification of successful sports figures in our society can lead to some really fucked up consequences. I don’t know what, if anything, can be done about that, but it’s worth talking about.

        • Paulk says:

          That’s not quite the right analogy. People are not saying anything about the *quality* of his films relative to child rape. They are dismissing the value of being an excellent filmmaker relative to his crime, just as they criticize the value of being an excellent football couch relative to what Paterno did (and did not do).

          You’re right that it would be silly to knock the quality of the Polanski’s films. I just don’t think that’s what anyone is doing.

          • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

            Actually some people did say, quite explicitly, that Polanski was never really that good a filmmaker anyway (though Scott had a good, short post making the point I’m making here).

            But, as I keep saying in this thread, the good that Paterno did was not simply as a football coach. Though I think the bad he did still exceeds it, all the commentators who keep saying “I don’t care about achievement in football” are not acknowledging why, prior to their knowledge of the child rape cover-up, many people thought highly of Paterno.

    • Bob says:

      The Sandusky episode has served to overshadow what Paterno had become in the last couple decades. Read what the school’s compliance officer had to say about Papa Joe after resigning in disgust. Read about his role in covering up the 2007 football player assault case – William Britt had a few things to say about Paterno. Of the last 140 Penn State players charged with crimes not one missed so much as one game.
      I believe Paterno was one of the good guys way back when but as an important part of a hopelessly corrupt system he couldn’t help but be corrupted himself. It’s been a couple decades since the old Papa Joe gave up the ghost….

      • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

        Totally agree with this.

        When totaling up Paterno’s legacy, his efforts to get everyone look the other way at less awful, but still serious, violations by his players need to be remembered, too.

        Though it rightly looms particularly large, the Sandusky matter was not the only blot on Paterno’s record.

      • Bob says:

        Sorry – just reread that and realized it’s not quite what I meant to say. Of course the Sandusky case IS the biggest part of this. What I object to is the characterization that there was loveable old Papa Joe/the Sandusky Joe. The loveable part may have been true at one time but it disappeared long ago. The Paterno who routinely covered up crimes committed by his players is the Paterno who stonewalled on Sandusky. It was a long, slow downhill slide for a man who at one time really did seem to care about what kind of people his football became. Winning became the only goal and from that moment on looking the other way in the face of child rape became possible for him.

  11. c u n d gulag says:

    I’m a huge Penn State fan, and a former Paterno fan.
    But the last 12 or so years, after he found out about Sandusky, have ruined what was once a stellar career.
    It’s hard to overlook the horror that he allowed to continue to happen right under his nose. Instead of facing it head-on, he turned his back on those kids and their families, and that, to me says more about him than all of the success he had a football coach.

    I do, however feel for this family.

    I know what they must have felt when they first found out about his illness, because earlier this week, my 86 year-old father was also told he has lung cancer. I spent all morning with him while he got a PET Scan in Manhattan, and we just got back.
    The VA sent a private car to pick us up, wait for us, and drop us off. And, since we live about 80-90 miles away, that was no small accommodation.

    I’ve spent a lot of time over the past month with him at the VA near Beacon, NY.
    First he had gall stones, which we haven’t had a chance to figure out a strategy for, because right after that he developed a bad cold, and they found fluid in his lungs. Then, he had a bad infection in this arm, which seems to be improving slowly, and then, after further tests on his lung, they found a small tumor – is there even such a thing as a “small” tumor?

    I’m selfish, and I hope to have my father around for a few more years – if his quality of life doesn’t deteriorate much further.

    I think very highly of the VA. They have a very hard-working and caring staff. I wish everyone in this country had access to the kind of health care my father has gotten – and this despite all of the budget cuts they’ve had in the past 10+ years.

    In a saner nation, we might.
    But not here, and not now.
    Probably not for the foreseeable future.
    Maybe after I’m gone…

    • Eric says:

      I’m sorry for what’s happening to your father. I wish you and he and your family the best.

    • actor212 says:

      Sorry about your dad, man. At 86, tho, he has his faculties and his family. Life is still rich for him, so god bless him.

    • Malaclypse says:

      Good luck. It sucks when your parents get old…

      • c u n d gulag says:

        Thanks, guys.
        I’ve been blessed.
        I may not have won the NY State Lottery, but I did win the parental lottery.
        And love is more important than money.

        Mal,
        How’s your Mom?

        • Malaclypse says:

          She has good days, and bad days. And my brother, who is evil in ways I’m not going to discuss publicly, has ensured that she does not get adequate medical care for her condition. There are no other living relatives that might break the deadlock he threw up regarding her. And I can’t fix any of that.

  12. wengler says:

    Paterno was the most powerful person at Penn State. Everyone else in this case would’ve lost things big and small for blowing the whistle on a known child molester. Everyone except Paterno. And his conscience seemed to be more bothered by harming the child molester than the children he was molesting.

    Fuck him. He’s dead.

  13. actor212 says:

    On Paterno’s so-called legacy, I have these thoughts

  14. Jesse Levine says:

    My daughter was at Penn State during the glory years of the 80′s and my granddaughter is a freshman there now. I never drank the Koolaid (I don’t like football coaches in general and I went to Syracuse when there was a real rivalry), but there was much more to him than a football coach. He was a true benefactor of the school in a way that enhanced it as an academic institution.

    He stayed too long, and began to see himself as the institution, not merely it’s face. I believe that he was a moral man, but hubris and a misguided desire to protect his legacy caused a grave moral failure. He should be judged, as they say on ESPN, by the “body of his work”.

    • Slocum says:

      Yes, his body of work was stunning: making sure that over 100 Penn State players charged with crimes never missed any games and ensuring that his close friend had ready access to boys to rape.

    • Malaclypse says:

      Okay. On the one hand, he was the nominal head of a group of people that won some athletic contests. On the other hand, he abetted child rape.

      I’m not finding this a tough choice.

  15. witless chum says:

    The excellent Spencer Hall.

    The common parallel between many eulogies of Paterno has been to call this a Greek tragedy. This seems accurate enough: there is an aging king figure at the end of a long reign, and then something horrible happens, and a satisfactory cataclysm occurs resulting in everyone’s death and a kind of moral lesson. This would be reassuring in a sense: it would follow a pattern, and thus give some meaning to the Sandusky tragedy.

    This seems like editing, the kind often done at memorials to make sense of the senseless. There is no sense, no comparison here. Joe Paterno the man became Joe Paterno the institution, a fundraising machine and brand so welded to the institution of Penn State that the two became inseparable. When the Sandusky scandal hit, the institution protected its own in the name of the institution, leaving all responsibility to a chain of command devoid of personal accountability. Cowardice prevailed, and evil skated along on the servility of those abdicating responsibility.

    Paterno failed here, and failed badly. I don’t believe in an ultimate judgment for the kind of pain Paterno allowed to happen. That too, seems like a fictional comfort drawn over the deep discomfort of reality. You could kill Jerry Sandusky a thousand times and it undoes nothing. That’s why they call it evil, not “correctable injustice.” It is why the word exists. That Paterno had some small part in fostering it, and allowing one of society’s basic taboos against inhumanity to flourish under his nose, is undoable and unforgivable. Death does not redeem it, and time does not correct it.

  16. BobS says:

    Fuck ESPN, fuck SI, etc. The eulogies I want to read are the ones written by the boys (or the parents of the boys) Sandusky raped.
    I hope some of the more sentient moments Paterno had on his deathbed were spent in terror at the prospect of the eternity in Hell (that he believes in, not me) he would suffer for the crimes against children he enabled and covered up.
    The one thing that the megalomaniacal old prick guaranteed by his single-minded pursuit of the college football win record (which I think was a large part of his motivation for burying Sandusky’s crimes) is that him and Penn State will be associated with child rape every time his name is seen atop the list of winningest coaches.

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