Grieving Penn Staters Need to Get a Grip

As an alum, I’d like to remind fellow Lions that Joe Paterno was not a victim.

Joe Paterno wasn’t dead on Friday night, but Facebook was already glutted with nauseating tributes—one referenced the “sky crying blue tears.” Get a grip; he was a football coach, he was 85, and the pall of scandal under which he died is very legitimate. All the Penn State-isms in Happy Valley can’t fix that; in fact, those are making matters worse. If I were one of Jerry Sandusky’s alleged victims, or one of their parents, this hero worship of a bystander with Paterno’s clout would probably give me a stroke.

Being born and raised in Philadelphia, a city of notoriously bipolar sports fans, I found the Cult of Paterno a curious phenomenon. I was a freshman at Penn State when they won the National Championship in 1986, and everyone was chugging the Kool-Aid, especially after that win, but it wasn’t because Paterno asked them to do it. In fact, he always seemed to me to be uncomfortable and a little bit embarrassed by the adoration. He preferred to be seen as a philanthropist. Maybe it was because he was smart enough to know that being the CEO of a football factory is not the same as curing AIDS or digging wells in Africa. He also wanted to be seen as an educator, but football players don’t get recruited to Penn State to write term papers.

As the truth was literally spewing out of all ends of State College last November, of course the cameras turned to Paterno. He looked genuinely dumbfounded when he came out to wave the zealots off his front lawn. For the first time ever, not only did the University not have his back, but he became their burnt offering to the public. He didn’t know what to say, so he told those crazy kids to go home and study.

He regrouped, lawyered up, and dispatched his son to give a prologue to his interview. In a sports coat and sweater, perched on a stool, Jay Paterno referred to his father, the mighty patriarch, as “Joe.” The angle was clearly going to be that Joe was just a regular working stiff, reporting to his superiors, like any regular working stiff would. But how many regular working stiffs are being chased by every major media outlet in the country, and then get to hand-pick the Washington Post to tell their side of the story?

Paterno’s image of being simple and humble was not totally disingenuous. He was acutely aware of his sweet life and took opportunities to express his gratitude for it. Ironically though, it was his grandiosity that came through when he told Post reporter, Sally Jenkins, that he “didn’t feel adequate to deal with the situation.” He attempted to make the ongoing sexual abuse of children about him—his inadequacy, which was really his discomfort with a sordid subject. None of us would know exactly what to do if this kind of information were to land in our laps, but the fact that we aren’t social workers, child psychologists or cops doesn’t get us off the hook.

It would have been enough for Joe Paterno to have said to anyone who would listen, which—considering who he was—would be everyone: “I think Jerry Sandusky is raping boys.” Maybe the University would have still tried to silence him, and maybe the law would have still been confusingly ineffective, but the media would have prevailed; they would have used their powers for good and, at the very least, might have shamed Sandusky into exile. Maybe Paterno would have been fired, but it would have been as a crusader for children and for truth. These posthumous sentiments that he, too, was a victim of Sandusky are an ignorant belittlement of all victims of sexual abuse. Paterno made his choices. It’s hard to believe that a father, a grandfather, and a person who spent the better part of his life around young people could ignore the base instincts that made him the personification of success.

I remain a proud Penn State graduate. After growing up in Philadelphia, going to school in Happy Valley was like living in a snow globe. It is a significant part of my personal history, especially since my own two kids are products of a Penn State romance. So, to my fellow alumni I say, honor the integrity of the victims and their families, and support the long road they have ahead of them by giving the schmaltzy Penn State platitudes a rest.

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  • Ceili

    I honor the integrity of the victims along with my coach who turned the university that you and I attended into the great institution it is today. Look at what Penn State was before Paterno arrived and look at it now. Then try to tell me he was JUST a football coach. I’m not making any judgements until ALL the facts are out and due process is received. Until then I will honor the integrity of the victims and the integrity of the man who dedicated 61 years to my university.

  • Gina

    I feel so compelled to address people like you. Of course, we are all allowed our opinions. Maybe I misunderstand yours. Are you basically saying we Penn State alum have no right to mourn Joe Paterno? We should not be appreciating all the positive things he has done in his life? You are telling us all to get a grip? Let me tell you something. When I found out JoePa was told by McQuery, I was very saddened and angry. I felt like he could’ve stopped this from continuing with the power that he had. It blows my mind that something like that was reported and went up the chain to nowhere. We all feel like we would’ve done way more than what was done. It would be naive for any one of us to think we know all the facts in how it all transpired almost 10 years ago. I personally don’t think of Joe as a “victim” and definitely don’t compare him to the real victims, that would just be stupid. Sandusky destroyed all of those children’s lives forever! And I wish with all my heart that Joe would’ve stopped it. It is certainly unclear as to what was conveyed to Joe by McQuery. Again, we weren’t there and it was 10 years ago so there is alot of recollection going on. Hell, I can’t remember what I did yesterday half the time. Anyway, my point here is this. I agree with you in many respects that Joe absolutely had an obligation to do more than he did. I do not think of him as a victim. But Alexandria, the man was still an incredible asset to Penn State! How much has he donated to the University? Millions. He has a part of the library named after him for all the money he has donated to it. He devoted his life To Penn State and to the football program. He demanded excellence from his players on and off the field. All you ever hear from alum football players is accolades for Joe in all that he did for them as human beings, helping them to be fine young men. Nobody is perfect, not even Joe. Are you? I know I am not. I know that when I die, I hope people remember me for the good things. They may not have forgotten the bad things, but it is not usually the focus when a person dies. Joe deserves that as well upon his death. Who are you to say he doesn’t? Joe’s good things are many, and he does also have a very huge negative now, but really Alexandria, we should give our “schmaltzy Penn State platitudes a rest”? Each one spoken or written is truly from the heart of a true Penn Stater and fan of Joe Paterno. Life is NOT black and white and neither is this situation; however, you cannot ignore his accomplishments anymore than you can ignore the fact that he was told about Sandusky and didn’t do enough. Upon his death, you cannot deny people praising the man we as Penn Staters have loved our whole lives. Joe Paterno was truly a great man. He was also flawed because he was a human being, but he was still a great man.

  • Daniel

    What a horrible piece. You spewed angst that was not about an objective report of Joe Paterno but more of a woman who illustrates her disgust for a man who build her University. Did you not have a good time there? Where you the one who was left out? Your hatred towards Paterno is obvious for whatever reason. But if you are going to write an editorial with “facts” make sure you get them accurate first. Oh and by the way….you can hand in your alumni card on the way out. Ingrate.

  • Stephanie

    A proud Penn State graduate!? You’ve got to be kidding. Do you realize that someone lost a husband yesterday? A father? A grandfather? How dare you forget to remember those who are grieving.

    As a current Penn State student, I’m ashamed of your words. We all make mistakes. I certainly have and I’m sure you have as well. I choose to remember the impact that Joe Paterno had on this university, YOUR university, which would not be the same without his contributions. A man just lost his life, his battle with cancer. Show some compassion. Hopefully your children will be able to know that Coach Paterno was a good, kind man, not the monster that you make him out to be.

  • dickens3

    Having clearly just bleamed in from another planet, wtf with these Penn State affiliates? The reason I now have a bad taste in my mouth about Penn State has less to do with Jerry Sandusky or Joe Paterno than it does how ludicrous these ”staters” are regarding their idolatry of this man. They talk about about Penn State like it is the cornerstone of civilization. It’s a college for God’s sake. A school that made a lot of money because of football. In the land where I come – that being life – there ARE some things that are absolutely black and white. Let’s be clear what we’re talking about – A man’s penis in a little boys rectum is absolutely not a grey area. An adult who was in an absolute position to see to ensure that NOT ONE MORE CHILD WAS RAPED is not a grey area. Its not a ‘flaw” ”a mistake”. It is inconscionable. Those of us who don’t give a rats ass about football, and a university in the middle of nowhere, find it inconceivable that a man who did nothing, absolutely freaking nothing to stop little boys from being rectally raped – we find it absolutely repulsive that you insist that he was a hero. Why again? Because of what he did for YOUR school. Who cares really. Certainly not the mothers of little boys who were raped and ruined and will never truly recover. Oh, but you have a great library. Wonderful. The guy clearly wasn’t a monster and I do not think the author implied such. However, he failed to protect children from sexual abuse. If we live in a society where you can do that and still be eulogized as a hero because of your contributions to a college for god’s sake – that is terrifying quite frankly.

  • vrr5010

    “But the media would have prevailed; they would have used their powers for good and, at the very least, might have shamed Sandusky into exile.”

    I just had to read that to see what a crock of crap this article is, by a writer who obviously doesn’t recognize THE MULTIPLE FAILURES OF THE MAINSTREAM, CORPORATE-OWNED MEDIA THAT OCCUR EVERY SINGLE DAY IN THIS COUNTRY. The media does not always prevail, and the fact that a brilliant reporter for the Harrisburg newspaper broke this story in March, and you people only picked it up in November shows that. Everyone likes to believe they’d be the hero, and these stories that make everyone feel better by telling them they would have done it right is not helping the problem of child abuse. You know who could have done more? The cops who knew, the district attorney who knew, the governor who knew, the mother of a child who knew, school officials who knew. Joe Paterno is one of many, and while he didn’t do the right thing, he should not be the only one brought forth for judgment. We need to talk about ways to help people talk about abuse, rather than making people feel like Paterno’s failure was an isolated incident.

    This is the final straw for me, reading this website that publishes pieces more for shock value than for legitimate journalism. As someone with a subscription to Phillymag and who cares about this city, I am ashamed of you and all of these writers who continue to drag the name of a man who passed away less than 48 hours ago through the mud. Show some respect.

    I’m ending my subscription to your magazine because of awful reporting that misleads others. Not because you have an opinion that I disagree with.

  • butseriously1

    PATERNO KNEW! How sick am I of you ignorant fools peddling your lies? The idea that there is a piece of the story that Paterno “knew” is ridiculous. You are incapable of comprehending a man who lives a good life & does good things, so you attempt to tear him down, to attempt to render him failure like yourself. He is not. You are Mike McQueary. You are the coward who runs & hides, & you are desperate to bring Paterno to your pathetic level.

    Here is what is known. Sandusky did bad things to kids. There is a vague story about a coward who says he saw some piece of those bad things & ran away, but the coward’s story changes over time as to what he saw. Beyond that, there is a story, much more vague, about what the coward chose to relay to a 3rd party.

    I will tell you what is going on right now, and I defy you to prove otherwise. You are INVENTING a story. You are writing a script of fiction to fill in the gaps in the vague stories, & your work of fiction vilifies the 3rd party. Shame on you.

    Here is the truth. Here are the FACTS, as they are known.

    “McQueary said the entire encounter — from when he first entered the locker room to when he retreated to his office — lasted about 45 seconds.”

    “McQueary said he reported what he saw to recently-fired head coach Joe Paterno, but that he did not give Paterno explicit details of what he thought he saw out of respect for the coach.”

    “McQueary said he did not give Paterno explicit details of what he believed he’d seen, saying he wouldn’t have used terms like sodomy or anal intercourse out of respect for the longtime coach.”

    “He was very upset and I said why, and he was very reluctant to get into it,” Paterno said.

    “You know, he didn’t want to get specific,” Paterno said. “And to be frank with you I don’t know that it would have done any good, because I never heard of, of, rape and a man. So I just did what I thought was best. I talked to people that I thought would be, if there was a problem, that would be following up on it.”

    “I called my superiors and I said: ‘Hey, we got a problem, I think. Would you guys look into it?’ Cause I didn’t know, you know. We never had, until that point, 58 years I think, I had never had to deal with something like that. And I didn’t feel adequate.”

    “At that point, Paterno set up a meeting for McQueary and Curley, the athletic director, and Schultz, who oversaw university police.”

    “Paterno didn’t just give his information to a superior, he turned it over to the highest ranking official in that police department. That man, PSU’s VP of Business called in the ACTUAL WITNESS and spoke to him. In other words Paterno could see an investigation.”

    If you are unhappy with what the law requires for dealing with this scenario, then you are free to feel guilty for supporting those laws, & are free to vote to have those laws changed. What you should not be free to do, is establish requirements for behavior & then fire a man because you believe following those requirements isn’t good enough.

    Not only did Paterno do his duty, but “following up” would have solved nothing. There is no REASON, given what Paterno was told, that he would have called the police, after having already contacted his superiors, which included the man who oversaw the police. However, if he followed up with the people he contacted, and his superiors were content to sweep it under the rug, what would they have told Paterno? “Yeah, he’s been fucking boys, but we’re just going to keep that between us.”

    No. They would have told Paterno that it was a misunderstanding, & that Sandusky was just “horsing around,” & Paterno would have gone back to coaching. You would have no leg to stand on in your claim he should have “done more,” but nothing would have changed. What is at issue is that you don’t care about the facts, & you don’t care about how life works in the real world. You just want to imagine that Paterno knew a decade ago what you know now. You are playing Monday Morning Rape Squad.

    You people keep insisting that Paterno “knew.” Why, why why?! Why would Paterno allow that to continue? If he is the person you would like to claim he is, why would he allow the University, the team, his job, & his legacy to be at risk every day, for no reason? Paterno could have told Sandusky to leave. He could have easily covered it up completely. He could end the potential for future incidents by quietly telling Sandusky to never step foot on campus again. What possible reason could there be to allow an ex-employee to continue to rape boys on campus?

    You don’t have an answer because your position doesn’t make any sense at all. It is incongruous with Paterno’s history as a leader, and it’s incongruous with the behavior you attribute to him, of wanting to cover things up. It just doesn’t make sense to say that he knew, yet still allowed Sandusky to stay.

    IF he was the terrible megalomaniac you people claim, it would all have gone away.

    “Hey Jerry. I don’t know what is going on with you, but I can’t have these accusations affecting the University. We’ll squash this, but you have to go. Move your charity off campus & don’t come back. Period. I am the god of Penn State, & I have spoken.” Bam. Done. No muss. No fuss. No stain. Easy peasy.

    If Paterno was a good guy, OR if he was a bad guy, the problem would have quickly gone away. IF, and ONLY if, he knew. The fact that Sandusky remained is it’s own evidence that Paterno did not know.

    Maybe, just maybe, you don’t have any idea at all what you are talking about, & are attempting to make yourself feel better by tarnishing the image of a human who was much greater than you will ever be. He did more, & did it for more people, than you could ever hope to do, and you don’t like it. Your jealousy is much more disgusting & reprehensible than any “mistake” Paterno ever made. Ever.

  • Daniel

    Dickens3..your a moron. But if we look at the facts of the situation; Sandusky was investigated for his poor behavior since 1998 and then retired from Penn State in 1999 but received an office and full use of the facilities from the Board of Trustees. In early 2000 Sandusky is seen twice by janitors with naked boys in the shower performing oral sex on them. He was not arrested or investigated. So then in 2002 McQueary witnesses the same type of behavior and then reports a vague interpretation to Joe Paterno. Paterno did not only do what was required of him but did what he felt was right by reporting the incident to Tim Curly and Gary Shultz. Curley informed McQuery that Sandusky’s keys were taken and that the incident was reported to Second Mile. But just like the reports from the janitors Sandusky was never arrested or investigated. Paterno is not the one who should shoulder the blame here. Sandusky is the criminal and Curley is culpable for the cover-up. Paterno took less than 24 hours to tell Curley what happened. Curley took eight years and a grand jury to say anything further.

    Question: What do Centre County Child Protective Services, a missing Centre County district attorney, several PA State Attorney generals (including our now governor), the State College Police, the PSU university police, a PSU coach who eye witnessed sodomy of a child, and at least several parents of victim children all have in COMMON?

    Answer: They all knew more about Sandusky being a sexual predator than Joe Paterno and had more culpability in the continuing commission of his crimes and yet are not being held accountable in any way.

    So idiots like you should not be allowed to post rants that are factless. If your not a football fan or PSU fan so be it. But if you’re going to spew FACTLESS statements…shut the hell up.

  • stmash13

    You and Victor Fiorillo should get together. Here is what you are both missing … Joe Paterno was a mere football coach.The university police, the PA state police, the local district attorney and the PA attorney general also somehow missed what a football coach should have gotten??? SERIOUSLY??? — let alone the combined knowledge of the business savvy wealthy board and the university president (sic — ) who also missed the facts … and then a battery of trained lawyers missed the abuse, and blamed it all on the football coach? SERIOUSLY?
    I know I will catch flack, so I ask all of the entities above to disclose their files. To disclose what was known. to be truthful, to tell the WHOLE truth. My guess is that a lot of big time people in this state closed their eyes to what was really going on, and the lacked to guts to move.

    Let’s begin to look more closely at the dealings of each Board member and politico in any way associated with this Penn State mess. I dare anyone with any fortitude to move forward and expose ALL of the truth. Politicians, students, alumni (ae), and anyone with knowledge.

    I want to know who knew what and when!!! The unanimous Board of Trustees vote is a sham. As rteagan to Casey — blame the dead guy who can’t defend himself. Let’s convene a special prosecutor for the Penn State fiasco — someone without political ties. If you, the Board, really want the truth, do it.

  • alexbarbadoro5

    @stmash13 –I totally agree w/you on FULL disclosure. However, anyone who has the privilege to work with young people is more than a mere anything. The first time Paterno, or anyone else on his staff, on campus, or in the community heard these allegations, staying within the chain of command was acceptable. Beyond that though, if the allegations continue to surface in various permutations throughout the years, as these did, then it was obvious that it was not being handled. At that point, it’s time to break the chain & sound every alarm that can be sounded. Paterno had a lot of power to sound a lot of alarms, & he didn’t. But you’re right in saying that there are many, many people, beyond Joe Paterno who are also culpable.

  • moe1cshemp

    All I have to say after reading White, Fiorillo & You, is that you sad people at this sad organization (The Philly Post) deserve each other.

  • susrut65

    Ah… PSU athletes ranked highest in their academics…above Stanford, so trying to dismiss Paterno as an educator is a complete failure, untrue, wrong, nyet, nine, kaput, faceplant on your part. He valued eduacation more than you by the looks of this article.

    You remind me of white, wealthy libs who want so dearly to belong to the poorer classes, “Not me, I’m so unique! I feel differently than everyone else!”…but it just rings so hollow.

    Please, don’t tell anyone you graduated from PSU….you’re article has so many mistakes and falsehoods, I’m embarrassed.

  • susrut65

    Oh and read, really read ‘butseriously’s’ post. Don’t gloss, don’t rationaliize, use the tools given to you in Journalism 101 and read.
    In order to feed the beast that is the current day news media, knee jerk, morally outraged, modern day witch hunts are now…news.
    Nancy Grace would be proud.