Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What I Think Joe Pa Did(n't Do)

I'm torn a bit on this one, as I don't want to defend someone in an indefensible position.

The Penn State stuff really is sad. And I know that the real victims in all this are those young men who were violated, abused, and just put through something that is just truly unimaginable. I honestly cannot wrap my head around it.

I just saw Matt Millen's commentary (Tuesday) on ESPN, and it's obvious that there are lots of emotions involved for everyone.

It's sad, frustrating, and infuriating.

What comes next in the space is NOT a defense of this behavior, or of any individual. But I want to get into the reaction towards Joe Paterno's future.

The topic - In Light of These Accusations, Should Joe Paterno Be Allowed to Coach Anymore?

I have been reading and listening to the commentary towards what should be done with Joe Paterno. It is overwhelmingly positioned that Joe Pa should be pushed out. I got to talk a little bit about the situation with my friend Lance Taylor of WJOX. LT is a parent - 2 kids - and on the phone, he told me he thinks there's no way Joe Paterno survives. This may be true, and I think that parents, the victims and their parents, and lots of people agree.

He's the face of the program where all of these activities occurred. And it's easily arguable that he's responsible, and that he didn't do enough to protect these children.

Totally fair to say.

But I don't know if I agree. I'm not saying that I don't agree - just that I don't know. I really wish I couldn't sit the fence on this one, but I am a believer in due process, and Joe Paterno is not (at this point) being investigated in the abuse or the cover-up.

I have read the entire report. You can here, as well. It is not pretty.

Paterno probably didn't understand
what was going on.
I like to think of things in how they actually went down - not how they should have gone down, or what would be the politically correct story. From reading the report, I have my opinion of how this actually happened. I shared my thoughts with LT, and he said it really was possible that this was how it all went down. Again, my opinion only on what Joe Paterno did:

I think that the graduate assistant saw Sandusky and the boy just as it was described. And the GA flipped out, didn't know who to tell. He finally decides to go to Joe Paterno. The problem is that Joe is 70-something years old at this time, and I would imagine that telling a septuagenarian about a football coach sodomizing a child is very uncomfortable. And I think that the GA had one of those conversations where he attempted to tell Joe Pa what happened without actually saying what happened.

And Joe didn't make the connection. At least not fully. It's clear (to me, at least) that there is some grey in the report as to how specific the information that Joe Paterno had about the 2002 incident was. In the report, Joe Pa reports to Tim Curley (the athletic director) that something "sexual in nature" was reported to have occurred.

What may be "sexual in nature" to you and me may not be to Joe. Paterno really could have thought that it was towel-snapping or a butt-slap (like you see all the time on the football field). I'm not saying that the coach doing these activities with a child is appropriate - but Joe wasn't thinking sodomy when he was thinking "sexual in nature".

Remember, Joe Paterno was born in 1926. When Joe's views on the world were being formed - sexual conversation was not normal. And definitely not child sexual abuse. I believe that the GA got to Joe's house and couldn't quite get the right words out. And Joe Pa wasn't sure exactly what he was talking about.

As we said, Paterno reported it to the administrators. Here is another area where we have some grey - the report makes no more mention of anyone reporting this behavior to Joe Paterno. I think it's possible that Paterno reported this information (at this point - 2002 - not knowing if it was true or not) and never heard anything about it again.

Should he have followed up? Probably so. I think I would have.

But I'm not Joe Paterno. I'm also not (at the time) a 70-something and also not been told that a guy I coached football with (and who was likely a friend) for a long time was inappropriately touching/fondling little boys. But if I was in Paterno's position, it's not a conversation that I'd be looking to have.

It's just uncomfortable. I'm not saying that's an excuse for not following up - it's just probably why he didn't. He didn't hear anything else about it, and Joe probably assumed that nothing was found and everything was fine. He hadn't ever heard of or thought that Sandusky did these types of things. He was a fellow football coach, after all. One that he coached with for many years.

I think it came down to a miscommunication between Paterno and the GA, and an assumption that Joe Pa made that the investigation didn't reveal anything.

Was the responsibility still Paterno's at this point? A lot of talking heads have claimed he had a moral obligation to bring this to the authorities. Perhaps (and in retrospect, he should have). But he did what he did - thinking it was the right action to take. And when nothing new or update was given to him, he figured it was over. I know it's unfortunate, but I bet that's how it happened.

We all know that Joe comes from a different era where topics like this were extremely taboo and difficult. He miscommunicated and assumed.

Does that miscommunication and assumption justify pushing Paterno out?

I still don't know.

And of course, if you'd like to follow me on Twitter, you can do so: @harry_long. I'd also appreciate it if you 'liked' the Facebook page of A Total Waste of Blog. You can do that at the top right of this page, or you can do it here. And you see all those buttons under the title of this post? That's how you share this thing. Get to it.