While the behavior of some Penn State students has been appalling, as I discussed the other day for the most part the media has been OK. But our commenters have IDed some exceptions. One glaring exception is Sally Jenkins, who asserts that Paterno should not be held accountable because “when he looked at Jerry Sandusky, he didn’t see a dirty old man in a raincoat. He saw a friend, a close colleague, and a churchy do-gooder.” I concede that Paterno should not have been able to tell that Sandusky was a rapist by looking at him or by the fact that he worked with children. He should have been able to tell that Sandusky was a child rapist after his assistant saw him raping a child and told him about it.
In his follow-up, Joe Posnanski, as you would expect, does not make an argument nearly that embarrassing. He concedes that Paterno should be held responsible, should have done more, and should have been fired. Nonetheless, he says that Paterno is a “scapegoat”:
I think the University could not possibly have handled this worse. It was disgusting and disgraceful, the method in which they fired Joe Paterno after 60 years of service, and yes, I do think Paterno was a scapegoat. Of course he was. I’ve already said that he had to be let go. But to let him dangle out there, take up all the headlines, face the bulk of the media pressure, absolutely, that’s the very definition of scapegoat. Three people were indicted and arrested. A fourth, I hear, will be indicted soon. Joe Paterno is not one of the four.
Well, one problem is that “scapegoat” might imply that Paterno is being blamed for something that wasn’t his fault, when in fact his responsibility was unambiguous and he clearly knew enough that he should have prevented it. To the extent that Posnanski is arguing that Paterno is being blamed disproportionately, on one level I don’t disagree with that. Not only Sandusky but Curley, Schultz, and Spanier in my mind deserve even more blame that Paterno. But there’s a reason that Paterno gets more attention. Posnanski’s question answers itself — he didn’t move to State College to write a hagiography of Tim Curley. Being a public figure cuts both ways.
It may not be strictly fair that Paterno is getting more attention than the athletic director who probably committed several felonies in the midst of covering up for a child rapist, but then it’s not fair that he maintains a prestigious title and large salary even though he doesn’t perform many of the duties other college coaches are expected to perform either. (I’m pretty confident that after he burned out Urban Meyer didn’t have the option of keeping his salary and title while letting other people run the team.) Paterno’s status has granted him many rewards and many privileges. In this case, the attention of celebrity is unwelcome, but you can’t have it both ways. He should have used that power to stop a man he knew to be a molester of children and it’s not in any way unfair to point that out. And the fact that hundreds of students are rallying on his behalf even now tells us something more about the dangers of hero worship.
…good analysis of the legal problems Paterno might be in.