Home / General / A Plea To Bill James: Please Stop Writing Nonsense About Joe Paterno*

A Plea To Bill James: Please Stop Writing Nonsense About Joe Paterno*


For whatever reason, the great Bill James has from the beginning of the Sandusky case going public been an apologist for Joe Paterno and his role in covering up the crimes of the serial child rapist who was his former defensive coordinator. Since many of its assertions have been clearly disproven by the Freeh report there’s probably not much point in a length dissection of his prior longform defense of Paterno, although I think you can see a lot of the key problems with his arguments: the apparent belief that decisions not to indict are affirmative proof of innocence, the confusing of de jure and de facto authority, what journalists and state authorities couldn’t find because of the coverup Paterno participated being used to exonerate Paterno, the strange idea that if an eyewitness account of sexually assaulting a child doesn’t specifically mention anal rape we can excuse the failure of a powerful man to report the incident to proper state authorities.

I was hoping that the Freeh report would lead him to admit that he was wrong about Paterno, but alas this didn’t happen. His first line of defense was to point out that that Sandusky was exonerated by legal authorities in 1998 so it’s not clear what Paterno could have done to stop him at that time, which (apart from the fact that Paterno later perjured himself on this subject) is narrowly true but for the reasons cited by Craig Calcaterra is also beside the point. Before blogging about it, I thought I would ask him to address the real point — that it makes his inaction in 2002 look even worse. He answered my question, but I can’t say that his answer was adequate:

I don’t believe anybody is saying that there’s something more Paterno could have done *in 1998*. The point is that the knowledge of the 1998 allegations made Paterno’s conduct in 2002 — not only failing to report credible accusations of rape against Sandusky to the appropriate state authorities, but intervening after a decision had been made by other administrators to report Sandusky, after which the allegations were not reported — particularly indefensible.
Asked by: slemieux99
Answered: 7/13/2012

[James]:So far as I am aware, you are the first and only person to allege that Paterno intervened in a decision that had been made to report Sandusky. I will note that the word “intervene” appears only once in the Freeh report, which is in quoting the University President as saying that had he suspected that Sandusky was abusing children, he would have been the first to intervene.

Is James saying that the self-serving comments of Graham Spanier should be taken seriously? Anyway, leaving aside the silly point about the word “intervene” not being used to describe Paterno’s 2002 actions in the report, not only am I confident that I am not alone in interpreting what happened in 2002 as an intervention by Paterno, I think almost everyone will agree with me that it’s the only reasonable interpretation. Let’s look at the relevant passage of the Freeh report, the email sent by Curley after Curley and Schultz had agreed to report Sandusky to state authorities:

“After giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe yesterday – I am uncomfortable with what we agreed were the next steps.”

This was followed, of course, by Spanier agreeing that this was the “humane” solution.

So the chain of events is as follows: Curley and Schultz agree to do the right thing; Curley speaks to Paterno; and then Curley, Schultz, Spanier, and Paterno all agree to do nothing about Sandusky, a serial rapist heading a charity for at-risk boys, even though we know that they had known about the previous charges against Sandusky. And while we do not know to an absolute certainty that Paterno intervened and persuaded Curley not to go to the state, to conclude otherwise you’d have to believe that Curley and Schultz changed their minds over the objections of the most powerful person on the campus. James’s apparent alternative explanation doesn’t even rise to the level of “implausibility.”

But let’s assume arguendo that my interpretation of these events, despite being the only remotely plausible one, is wrong. We still know that 1)Paterno knew that there was a credible accusation that Jerry Sandusky had sexually assaulted a child, 2)he knew his superiors had decided to do nothing about it and 3)despite the fact that he was aware of earlier accusations against Sandusky 4)did absolutely nothing about it, with the direct (and very foreseeable) consequence that Sandusky continited to rape young boys. Even in the most charitable interpretation of the facts, in other words, there is no possible defense of Paterno’s behavior, and James is still failing to address this.

*Title, as many will remember, a reference to this. I hope this doesn’t mean that James’s friend Joe Posnanski is still planning to release a quasi-hagiography of Paterno.

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