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Honor & Integritude!

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Shorter Verbatim Graham Spanier: “I have always acted honorably and in the best interests of the University.” I…Jesus. What I said applies to his latest exercise in self-congratulation and self-exoneration.

I’m sure I’ve missed some idiots, but for the most part I’ve been pleasantly surprised about how pundits and reporters have failed to give Paterno a pass. (And, yes, that’s asking for the absolute minimum, but I’m afraid I don’t expect that anymore.) From Maureen Dowd to Bill Plaschke journalists I don’t expect a lot of have been clear-eyed about Paterno’s responsibility.

The unpleasant surprise is that two of America’s best sportswriters have been exceptions. Joe Posnanski — who’s actually writing a book about Paterno and Penn State — gave an evasive reaction. Admittedly,it’s difficult to have the theme of a book you’re working on ripped out from under you and it’s more deciding-not-to-decide than actually a defense of Paterno. I hope he’ll redeem himself with the book.

The first sportswriter I saw actually defend Paterno, I cannot tell a lie, is Posnanski’s friend Bill James [this answer may be behind paywall.] This is a tossed-off response rather than a considered article and it’s clear from the bungled timeline that he’s not very familiar with the facts of the case, but this is a bizarre argument:

I can’t see what Paterno is supposed to have done that he didn’t do. Upon learning of the allegations against Sandusky, if I understand this correctly, he immediately fired him and reported the allegations to his superiors. People are upset that he didn’t do. . .what? Call the police? He had no business calling the police; he wasn’t a witness to anything or a complainant. We don’t call the police when we hear third-party allegations. He did everything he could reasonably have done. If that’s not enough, they might as well fire us all.

I have to say that I’ve never before heard the argument that people have “no business” reporting credible evidence of serious violent crimes to the legal authorities unless one has witnessed them personally, and unless it’s useful to John Yoo or something I’m confident I never will again. The effect of this on law enforcement would be substantial and deleterious if this was true. It seems worth noting here that Paterno’s nominal superiors had not merely the moral but the legal responsibility to report the third-party allegations. This “principle” is just made up and doesn’t make any sense.

One could, I suppose, distill this into a narrower argument that is more defensible, along the lines of “one should be very careful not to start reputation-damaging witch hunts based on gossip.” I would agree with that, but to think it applies to this case is absurd. Between the report that led to Sandusky’s “resignation” and the direct eyewitness observation of someone who knew Sandusky well and was well-known to Paterno, the evidence was very real and the chances that Sandusky was not a sex predator were minimal. Certainly the threshold for altering the legal authorities was passed. And as with Spanier, we know that Paterno thought the allegations were credible because he pushed Sandusky out and reported McQueary’s allegations to someone with the legal obligation to report them. The problem is that firing Sandusky isn’t a remotely adequate remedy in this case. It’s an adequate remedy if you’re dealing with professional violations, like an academic guilty of plagiarism. Here, we’re talking about a violent criminal preying on children. Firing Sandusky does absolutely nothing to protect future victims. Indeed, in this case less than nothing, since this left him more time to meet victims through his foundation while still being allowed to use Penn State games and facilities as inducements. Once he saw that Curley wasn’t planning to do anything, he unquestionably had a moral obligation to alert authorities who could stop Sandusky. His failure to do so is completely indefensible.

…as a commenter notes, Barry Petchsky is dead on: “But this is a wonderful opportunity for a writer: to be on the ground before, during, and after a Capturing The Friedmans mess. And it’s a wonderful chance for us to have a wonderful writer like Posnanski be the one to do it. When things calm down and Pos starts his new book from scratch, hopefully he’ll realize that he has a chance to write something more important and more timeless than a mawkish Father’s Day card.”

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