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Letters to Me Defending Joe Paterno and Attacking the "Unfair" Board of Trustees

Gary North
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Nov. 19, 2011

Letter #1, sent as soon as my article on Paterno appeared on Rockwell's site.

I am a current Penn State student and long-time reader of LewRockwell.com. I have always looked forward to reading your articles whenever they appear on LRC or Mises.org, as they are consistently well-written and thought provoking. Today was no exception: I read your article "The Paterno Affair and Western Liberty", and I believe that it is an incredible analysis of the Sandusky scandal and the lessons that the free-thinking world can draw from it.

However, I was disturbed by one of the conclusions drawn in the article: that the Board of Trustees, in their decision to fire Paterno, did what many in the PSU system had failed to do up to that point and "went the second mile". I respectfully disagree with this idea. "Going the second mile" implies that the "second mile" action is an action indicative of the "excellence" that you were referring to earlier in the article. I do not see how such a hasty, poorly-thought-out decision on the part of the Board of Trustees could possibly be construed as an action indicative of a group of people who have "adopted excellence as a way of life" in their chosen area.

The Board of Trustees fired a man who has arguably given more to the university than any other individual in history. They fired a man whom the students essentially look upon as their second father. They claim that they made the decision "in the best interests of the university" - in other words, to avoid falling revenue from alumni and benefactors due to negative media attention - yet they failed to realize that the decision to fire the most loved man on campus might attract more negative media attention than they could ever have imagined. At the very least, they should have realized that announcing Joe Pa's removal at 10:30 pm on a Wednesday night would inevitably lead to a massive student protest and probable riots (after all, this is the school that riots out of happiness - when the motivation is anger, the damage will be that much worse). Riots are not the way for a university to avoid negative media attention.

In short, the Board of Trustees handled this situation horribly. If "going the second mile" is equivalent to practicing excellence in one's chosen endeavors, the Board backtracked at least a few hundred yards from the first mile mark. It is apparent that Joe Paterno did not take the steps that he should have all of those years ago (he said it himself), but it is also apparent that the Board of Trustees also took some very misjudged steps along their path as well.

Then I got this.

Sir:

First, let me make clear to you that I have no connection to PSU or to Joe Paterno, and I have no interest in defending pedophiles. My own alma mater has, to my knowledge, never competed against PSU in any athletic contest.

Like most career athletes and coaches, Joe Paterno is obviously not a mental giant. His claim to fame, and the reason the for the loyalty of PSU students and alumni, is that he brought recognition and renown to an institution that would otherwise have had none. Why does the world know about PSU? Only because of its football team. Paterno's personal fame is due as much to longevity in his job as to his coaching successes.

And, it is the fame of the football team and Paterno's public profile that motivates a voyeurist press to aggrandize itself by blowing a third-page story into front-page headlines. If a high-school football coach in Dubuque had done what Paterno allegedly did, the story wouldn't survive one 24-hour news cycle. The real story here has nothing to do with Joe Paterno.

Were JoePa a distinguished Nobel laureate, leading a department claiming a chain of scientific achievements, bringing academic kudos to PSU, registering patents that brought million$ to PSU coffers, would he have been fired over having reported to his dean that one of his subordinates allegedly observed sexual abuse in one of the department's laboratories? Would it matter? Does the fault lie with the second-hand reteller of the facially-unlikely story, or does it lie with the perpetrator of the offense?

Is it possible that the PSU trustees were looking for an opportunity to dump Paterno under cover of some offense, so they could pretend to the legions of Paterno's supporters (and likely contributors to PSU trust funds), that the dump were justified and necessary? Could JoePa have been the victim of a sub rosa scheme to replace him with a nepotist candidate? Might the trustees, in these times of budgetary challenges, have been looking for a way to deny Paterno what must surely be some considerable retirement benefits? Do you trust the popular media to provide unbiased, complete coverage of "newsworthy" events?

I disagree with your condemnation of Paterno's response to the uncorroborated claim by an employee that a former employee had committed a crime. How could Paterno possibly know whether the reporting employee were telling the truth or had an axe to grind with the alleged perpetrator? Your assertion, that it was Paterno's responsibility to ascertain the credibility of the employee's story, is pure nonsense. Paterno didn't see the offense being committed; he had no direct knowledge of the alleged act; he had every reason to believe that Sandusky's reputation made the employee's story suspect; he may have had other reasons for doubting the story; and, he had no authority to investigate a person not under his purview for an alleged event that was equally not under his purview. If the PSU football coach is responsible for everything that happens in the locker room showers, then every "dropped-soap" adventure would make him an accessory. Good luck hiring JoePa's replacement under such circumstances.

And, under what principle do you claim that the employee had "authority"? He is a student, probably working for a minimal stipend of some kind. As a "graduate assistant", he may have had authority to grade tests of undergraduates; maybe. Nothing else. You may believe that he had a civic responsibility or a moral duty, but he had zero authority.

Paterno may well have considered the totality of the circumstances and reasonably concluded that he had no real basis for bringing "law enforcement" into a situation where it might have had no business, and by so doing, might have brought undeserved disrepute to PSU over a possibly-unfounded allegation. Undoubtedly, his contractual obligation to PSU included a prohibition of such things. The university's status as a creation of the state legislature is whatever the state makes it; it could enjoy privileged statutory authority or be on a footing equivalent to any other administrative agency of the state.

The legal complexities of this matter surely challenged Paterno's understanding; and he cannot, in my opinion, be fairly be criticized for putting the question into the hands of his superiors. If he noted afterward that nothing eventuated from his having done so, then he was justified in concluding that the appropriate steps had been taken to properly resolve it. Were he politically astute, he might well have foreseen the likely intrigue involved in dealing with the situation and concluded that he was right to let his superiors decide how to handle it. For all we know, there could have been other scandals that were buried by the "establishment", causing Paterno to believe that there would be nothing done, even if the allegation turned out to be true.

Your essay seems to me to judge Paterno according to your own personal values and standards. Those, whose values and standards differ from yours, might well condemn you for judging Paterno; judge not lest ye be judged, after all. Paterno is no genius, but he made the rational decision in this matter. He did nothing legally wrong. Questions of morality are beyond the lawful jurisdiction of the state and legitimate inquiries of the press.

The reality is that, where Paterno and PSU are concerned, this matter is nothing more than a public-relations dilemma; and their skill in handling it as such will determine their future regard by the public at-large and the accompanying political repercussions. The university's more serious internal problem will be whether firing Paterno without just cause, or even allowing the matter to escalate, will cause alumni financial support, testamentary contributions, and/or legislative funding to dwindle. There is also the very real possibility that Paterno could sue the trustees for any of several causes. I predict that the trustees will ultimately come to regret their politically-correct decision to fire Paterno, and that there will be consequential turnover on that board.

Think about this: "There is also the very real possibility that Paterno could sue the trustees for any of several causes." Do you think Paterno will sue the Board? Two days after I received this letter, the Governor of the state said of Paterno, "When you don't follow through, when you don't continue on to make sure that actions are taken, then I lose confidence in your ability to lead. That would be the case here." Paterno will sue the Board, meaning the governor, too?

The Board took decisive action -- what Paterno and the president of the university did not do. Members of the Board did not sit around with their index fingers symbolically in the wind.

The key issue was timing by the witness, as I said in my original article. I did not say it this well.

There seems to be some confusion over what one should do if, as allegedly happened at Penn State, one becomes aware of a pedophile sexually assaulting a child, so let us clear that up. Here, step-by-step, is what you do:

(1) Make the pedophile stop, preferably by putting him - or her - forcibly against a wall.

(2) Resisting the urge to put said pedophile through said wall, make sure the victim is OK.

(3) Call the police.

If the rules require you to notify a superior first, allow said superior a reasonable amount of time to call police. Fifteen seconds is a reasonable amount of time.

None of this happened at Penn State. Not in 1998 when a young boy's mother told officials her son had been inappropriately touched in a shower by assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

Not in 2000 when a janitor says he saw Sandusky performing oral sex on a boy in the shower.

Not in 2002 when a grad student alerted the school's iconic football coach, Joe Paterno, that he had seen Sandusky rape a 10-year-old in the shower. . . .

But what matters here is not the school's reputation.

It is not "JoePa's" legacy.

It's the children, stupid. . . .

It is all our jobs to protect all our children - period. And yes, it was good that Penn State stood up for Sandusky's alleged victims Saturday. But sometimes, doing the right thing belatedly is the same as not doing it at all.

The trustees understood this. They decided to stop kicking the can. It was about time.

The trustees had no knowledge of Paterno's lung cancer, which was revealed publicly yesterday. But had such knowledge been available, it should not have influenced their decision, any more than a similar diagnosis for Sandusky should affect a jury's decision. Sentimentality or the lack of it should not guide decisions in a case of this magnitude.

Why would anyone take as much time as these letters took to write in order to try to persuade me that I was wrong? They should have taken my earlier advice. They should not have sent me their outraged emails. They should have posted them on their individual blogs. But that would have made them look like bananaheads within days. Worse; their names would have been attached. Here, they remain anonymous bananaheads.

These two critics were obsessed. By what? By the wisdom of the trustees -- who were legally liable -- for taking decisive action as soon as they could. It was time for someone at Penn State to do this.

Paterno will get a $500,000 a year pension. Spare me the tears.

[Note: if either of you sends me another email defending your position, I will assume that you authorize me to post it with your name and email address. And if you deny me this privilege in your email, you have even less courage than the witnesses displayed.]

Incredibly, this article generated another one. But this one quotes the Bible.

Your stand on the Joe Paterno firing was opposed to my own, but I was given a lot of food for thought by your comments and passed it along to friends with whom I was having the same discussion. As always, I count on you to provide a reasoned commentary, grounded in a realistic world view, even when you write with passion, as you did in this instance. Also, I think the comments of the critics that you published missed the mark, as trying to break down Joe Paterno's decision making, whether to defend or to attack him, is more than any of us on the outside are in a position to do.

But I think they are right in their main point, that the decision to fire Paterno, particularly after he had already announced that he would leave at the end of the season, was wrongheaded and betrayed the cowardice of those facing a stampede to judgment rather than the courage to take an unpopular but necessary action. The one thing that is clear is that these incidents and rumors about them of Jerry Sandusky's pederast conduct had been circulating for years with opportunities for many, inside and outside the Penn State football program, the athletic department and even the university administration, to do something about it. There are a lot of unanswered questions, both about what Sandusky actually did and about the responsibility of the many who may have been expected to take notice and intervene, that need to be resolved before any such as the Penn State Board of Trustees, who themselves may bear responsibility, to start chopping heads. If recent news reports are to be believed, Mike McCreary didn't stop with just reporting to Joe Paterno what he witnessed in that shower stall in 2002. He actually stopped what was going on, by making his presence known, and, presumably after reporting what he witnessed to Paterno and Paterno's passing it on up to his superiors, McCreary was interviewed more than once by police officers. I don't know whether these were campus or town cops, but for purposes of assessing McCreary's, as well as Paterno's responsibility, I don't think it makes much difference. At that point, Sandusky was no longer employed in the Penn State football program, his access to youth in the locker rooms was curtailed, and the matter had been referred for police investigation. Now, perhaps, it will be revealed that Paterno, the AD, and the University President knew more of Sandusky's conduct than has been reported, , even conspired to have the police quietly close their investigation and make the matter go away, but until such facts are made public I can only conclude that Joe Paterno had done about all that reasonably could have been expected of him.

On the Board of Trustees, on the other hand, sits the Pennsylvania's Governor, who was State Attorney General at the time one of the Sandusky incidents was referred to him by the local prosecutor, who had already received a police report on the incident. The local D.A. recused himself from the case and referred it to the state level prosecutors for the astounding reason that his wife's brother is Sandusky's adopted child. Now you tell me, which person in authority in this case is more likely to have knowledge of Sandusky's activities and would bear responsibility of doing more than he did to report it - Paterno or this public prosecutor? Even after the matter was referred to the Attorney General, now the Governor and heavyweight on the Board of Trustees, it took years, and the elevation of the AG/Governor's chief investigator to head of the State Police, to put more than one investigator on the case to bring it to the position where it is now being prosecuted. Who is responsible for this delay, for choosing to bring it to a head only now, in the midst of Penn State's football season? Paterno? It seems to me that Pennsylvania's Governor may be the one guilty of passing the buck, of making Paterno the sacrificial lamb to expiate his own sin of tardy action.

Sexual exploitation of children is an horrendous offense, but it is not unparalleled, although it is one particularly useful to stir public emotion and build the careers of state prosecutors. More than one D.A. has succumbed to the temptation of exploiting such offenses, and injustice has resulted. I would remind you of the Little Rascal Day Care affair two decades ago, and of the copycat cases reported and prosecuted around the nation, in which most convictions were eventually reversed on appeal, as it developed the public hysteria greatly exceeded the proven facts. {You actually wrote me, a young Presbyterian minister at the time, offering to set me up to operate such a school or day care, as it appeared there was a need for good people to fill such vacancies.} Already, it appears the sins of Penn State in this present furor will not go unchallenged. The first raindrops of an expected shower have come in accusations made against a Syracuse assistant basketball coach.

I am put in mind of the story recounted in Genesis 9:20-27, in which Noah's son, Ham, embarrassed a drunken Noah by exposing his "nakedness", while his other sons, Shem and Japheth, had the decency to cover their father, even while turning the heads away so as not to compound their father's shame. Noah blessed his "virtuous" sons and pronounced a curse on his ingrate. I have read "nakedness" in this instance to be interpreted in different ways, but in a time when Americans are being taught, like Nazi, Soviet and Maoist children before them, that they are to report and expose to the public the sins of their parents and elders, I think it is important to recall that the Scriptures may have a different lesson to teach us about God's priorities and judgment.

And another (dated November 21).

It is beneath one who claims to be a Christian and to be inspired by the message of Christ to mock those who are critical of your opinions by means of the ad hominem attack.

You called two individuals who took the time to compose a letter critical of your take on the Penn State affair "bananaheads". Although you quoted several paragraphs from each of the two letter writers, you offered no rebuttal of substance and chose instead to mock them and employ the ad hominem attack. Generally speaking, the invocation of the ad hominem by one, without more, reveals that one's position is a loser. This is what you wrote:

Why would anyone take as much time as these letters to write in order to persuade me that I was wrong? They should have taken my earlier advice. They should not have sent me their outraged e-mails. They should have posted them on their individ- ual blogs. But that would have made them look like bananaheads within days……....Here, they remain anonymous bananaheads.

In the ensuing paragraph you wrote,

These two critics were obsessed. By what? By the wisdom of the trustees who were legally liable-for taking decisive action as soon as they could. It was time for someone at Penn State to do this.

You do not offer any substance to support your ad hominem attacks on the two writers. It would appear that you are resorting to the adolescent tactic of name calling because your position is bereft of merit. It would also appear that the two letter writers would exercise a lot more leadership than you would when confronted by an emotional, irrational mob. The Board of Trustees, as set forth by one of the letter writers, was already in possession of the knowledge that allegations had been made about Sandusky. For years. The Board could have acted much earlier but chose not to until the story went viral. The Governor could have pressed the issue publicly on the day he took office. He didn't notwithstanding the fact that he knew of the allegations. The same reasoning applies to other members of the Board. Where were they? Taking decisive leadership?

Thus, by your own standards, it is the Board of Trustees who should receive the most opprobrium as it is to them who the most has been given, not the head football coach and any asseveration to the contrary is pure poppycock unsupported by any empirical evidence. What transpired is that the Board of Trustees panicked and succumbed to the rabid forces of anti-child molestation hysteria. Such forces do not care about, and are hostile to, the real hallmarks of western civilization, i.e., due process and the primacy of the dignity and liberty of each and every individual. Embraced within said principles is the proposition that no individual should be forced to give witness against another -- even if the subject is child molestation. A person appointed to a position of trust must always bear the aforesaid in mind in discharging his duties. A position in trust must acknowledge the propensity with which people make false accusations, particularly in the sexual realm.

Your assertion that the trustees "were legally liable" is an empty, vacuous statement. For what are they legally liable? Is it your position that had the Trustees failed to dismiss Joe Paterno, they faced greater liability? If so, upon what legal premise? Is it your position that the trustees reduced their exposure to liability for firing Joe Paterno? If so, please cite the authorities upon which you rely. If you can't be bothered to do that, why bother to make such meritless claims? The Trustees may well be immune from any civil liability, in their individual capacities, given the prevailing jurisprudential order. Thus, a generalized, unsupported statement that the trustees had to act due to liability reasons, is most unpersuasive. Yet, you brandish this as proof that the letter writers are "bananaheads".

You mock and scorn the letter writers for taking the time to respond to your letter. You tell them that they should have posted their letters on their own blogs. What an absolutely meaningless criticism. It has nothing to do with the subject matter at hand and it only tends to support the proposition that you can't argue your position on the merits and must turn to the personal attack. You also imply that the letter writers are cowards for responding directly to you instead of posting their criticism on their own blogs. Again, what does this have to do with the merits of the matter? In my view, it is childish for you to take this approach. If one is committed to excellence and one is a writer / philosopher / Christian, one, by definition, is committed to arguing one's position on the merits. This means that one does not resort to the ad hominem.

You need to dial back your ego and inject a little humility.


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