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The Paterno “I’m Not Omniscient” Non-Sequitur

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For the reasons Dom Cosentino explains, Malcolm Gladwell’s recent story has the same problem Joe Posnanski has: defending the conduct of the Penn State hierarchy over the Sandusky affair by blurring together pre- and post-1998 conduct. Once you draw the correct distinctions, the “how could he have known what trained child welfare professionals didn’t?” defense obviously fails.  To again state the obvious:

  • It would be foolish to blame Paterno, Spanier et al. for not recognizing Sandusky as a child rapist before 1998.  There is, indeed, no way you call just “tell.”
  • Paul and I might actually disagree mildly on this point, but I don’t think PSU can be blamed for not stopping Sandusky in 1998.  If he was investigated by the proper authorities and cleared, any failures are on the authorities.   1998 is relevant only insofar as that what they knew in 2001 had to be interpreted in light of the investigation they knew about and makes their inaction even less excusable.
  • But Paterno, Spanier et al. certainly should have known that Sandusky was a child rapist after they were given a first-hand account of Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in 2001.  Even if you give the most charitable interpretation of what McQueary told Paterno, there was no excuse for not contacting the authorities, and it doesn’t require that Paterno be omniscient or have a magic ability to spot a predator.
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