Of Morals and Ethics : Joe Paterno and the Penn State scandal


Background: Jerry Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator and coach emiretus at Penn State University football, was indicted by the Pennsylvania grand jury on “on 40 counts of sex crimes against young boys”. Apparently, some of the incidents happened on the Penn State campus, since Mr. Sandusky still had access to the facilities as coach emeritus. Former assistant coach Mike McQueary, saw one such incident and immediately reported it to head coach of Penn State football team, Joe Paterno. Mr. Paterno in turn reported the incident to the University authorities. The incident was hushed up and the University authorities failed to report the incident to the police. Everything came out in public, when a parent of a victim filed a police complaint in 2009, which lead to the investigations and the eventual indictments. Two University officials were charged with perjury for failing to report the incident, while Mr. Paterno wasn’t charged.

Impact: Jerry Sandusky was indicted, Penn State University president Graham Spanier and Joe Paterno were fired by the Penn State trustees. The firing of Mr. Paterno, popularly known as “JoePa”, drew extreme reactions from students, leading to mini riots. Mr. Paterno was the coach of Penn State football team for 46 years and is one of the most successful and popular University football coaches.

Questions: The grand jury did not press any charges against Joe Paterno, since he had fulfilled his “legal obligations” of reporting the incident seen by Mr. McQueary to the University authorities. But what about moral obligations ? Was Joe Paterno, morally obliged to inform the incident to the police, when he must have realized that the University has decided not take action ? The only “action” University took against Mr. Sandusky was to tell him, not to bring boys to the campus. But he still had access to the facilities. Wasn’t Mr. Paterno concerned for the safety of other kids on the campus ? Why did Mr. Paterno, choose to stay quiet ? Was it because he wanted to “protect the reputation” of Penn State ?

Opinion: In my opinion, Joe Paterno was wrong. Mr. Paterno should have reported the incident further to the police when the University officials failed to take action. It remains unanswered as to why Mr. Paterno remained quiet. If it was to protect the reputation of Penn State, then he was wrong. Given the stature of Mr. Paterno, he would have enhanced it by going out in public. Students and parents looked up to “JoePa”, the grand fatherly figure of Penn State football.

If Mr. Paterno was concerned going against the University or losing his job, he was wrong there as well. He had enjoyed quite success until then as coach and he making good money as well (It was reported that in 2007, Mr. Paterno’s salary was $512,664 “which was not inclusive of other compensation, such as money from television and apparel contracts as well as other bonuses”). So he shouldn’t have been worried about loosing his job. In my opinion, he had achieved a lot by then. Besides, once again given the stature and respect he commands, I am sure parents, the community and Penn State trustees would have stood with him, if he had gone to police/ public with what he know.

By reporting the incident to the police, Mr. Paterno would have put a stop to Mr. Sandusky activities as well. The Penn State incident occurred in 2002 and Mr.Sandusky was indicted finally in 2011. Post 2002, it was reported that Mr. Sandusky continued with his dirty deeds. While it easy to get swayed by emotions and expressing anger over Mr. Paterno’s firing (imagine a situation with a Sachin Tendulkar and the reactions), but in this case Mr. Paterno is (morally) wrong. He deserved a grander exit as coach of Penn State football, but given the situation, Penn State trustees are right in firing him.

What do you think ? Your opinions are welcome.

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2 thoughts on “Of Morals and Ethics : Joe Paterno and the Penn State scandal

  1. First of all Mr Sandusky was not an employee of the University and more importantly the football program when this abuse took place. If the University was aware of Mr. Sandusky and his abuse of children then the University members that knew of this activity should be at the center of this issue. Mr. Paterno did exactly what he should have done which was to go to his superiors and let them handle this issue. They had the time and resources to do so, the coach did not.
    Also which police should Mr. Paterno have gone to? The campus police at the only ones that have jurisdiction on campus and that is why Mr. Paterno went to Mr. Shultz who was the head of that department.
    Also when Mr. Paterno received this information the alleged crime had already taken place – what was he going to report?

    Now in your article you state that the alleged crime took place in 2002 and countless other instances took place since then and until Mr. Sandusky was arrested. Why wouldn’t the attorney General of Pennsylvania and the now sitting Governor, Tom Corbett at fault? It was his desire to “teach Penn State, and Mr. Paterno” a lesson that put countless young children in harms way.

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