November 11, 2011
By Ric Albano
As I drove through the rainy Pennsylvania countryside yesterday, the excellent song “Season of the Witch” by Donovan came on the satellite radio. When the song ended, the DJ explained that its meaning has long been misinterpreted as being about witchcraft, the occult, or something related to Halloween. In fact, the song was penned as a protest against the crackdown on marijuana, which Donovan felt was an overzealous “witch hunt” when he wrote the song in September 1966. Ironically, that was the very same month when Joe Paterno began his long tenure as head football coach at Penn State University. That tenure ended this week when Paterno’s 46th season as head coach was cut short amid a child molestation scandal involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
Apparently, the firing was based on the fact that Paterno was told by an eyewitness that Sandusky was “fooling around” with a young boy in the locker room in 2002 and Paterno only reported it to his superiors and not law enforcement. But when one takes a breath and gets away from the emotion of this terrible situation, you have to admit this is, on its face, a rather weak reason to fire a legendary coach with more wins than anyone in history.
After being fired via telephone on Wednesday night, Paterno released a statement where he said “In hindsight, I wish I would have done more.” Some have seized on this as a tacit admission that he knew more about the situation, but I disagree. I think hindsight is the magical realm where all disasters are averted and all wrongs are righted and Paterno was doing his best to be classy and not pass the buck in light of this situation. But this is based solely on the evidence that has been made public thus far.
There are rampant rumors of much more to come in this situation, each more troubling than the last. If some of these rumors are true, then perhaps Paterno was culpable, or even criminal, in his handling of this situation. But the University’s Board of Trustees did not state anything beyond the above facts when they announced the dismissal of Paterno on Wednesday night. So why did they do it so hastily? Well, to me this is obvious.
Since the scandal broke on Sunday, the media has been on a feeding frenzy and it was immediately apparent that they were hunting for big game. Paterno was the trophy they wanted on their mantle. Simply accepting that these were the sole actions of a former assistant coach and that person will be brought to justice was not even a consideration by the sports (and later national news) media. Again, if these media types know more than what has been stated, please report it. Don’t spout your moral platitudes while you’re sitting on the “facts” that you won’t risk reporting because they’re sketchy.
Common sense says there is probably something more to the case as the logic just doesn’t seem to fit as of of today, 11/11/11. There is the weird case of the county prosecutor disappearing in 2005 and being “declared dead” earlier this year. Is this related somehow? Further, how is it that Mike McQueary, the person who actually witnessed the assault in 2002, still maintains his position on the PSU coaching staff? He reported it to Paterno, and Paterno reported it to the Athletic Director and University Vice President. Yet the then-75-year-old Paterno, who did not eyewitness anything and has been known to have “tunnel vision” towards strictly on-field situations, should have done more? Again, this argument may well be true if more facts come in but we’re dealing with what we know right now. Think about all the things we all hear from third parties, even trusted third parties. Do we believe everything we hear so much that we’re moved to take extraordinary measures? Of course not. Sometimes “in hindsight” we regret that we did not do more about a certain situation, but none of us are perfect.
But back to the media feeding frenzy. In recent weeks and months, we’ve seen other examples of the “witch hunt” mentality in order to right the wrongs that have been done to some people. I’ve heard countless pundits and politicians lament that no one has been arrested or charged in the financial collapse of 2008, yet they never get to the point where they give an actual name. It’s like – walk into any random Manhattan financial firm, close your eyes, spin around three times and point to someone and THAT’S the perpetrator of all our financial woes!
In light of this deeply disturbing Penn State scandal with real victims, the ludicrous Herman Cain sexual harassment allegations of the last few weeks look like bad jokes. We are learning that there are some fantastic common coincidences concerning all the accusers and a common political operative which ties them all together, so the Cain “scandal” will likely crumble to dust in the coming days.
People must realize is that there is a serious downside to overreactiion and gratuitous zeal. By blanketing all of “Wall Street” with blame for a financial mess, true scam artists like Bernie Madoff are lost in the shuffle. The false accusations against Cain, if they do in fact turn out to be false, will give cover to true sexual harassers. Now, while the actions of Sandusky are on a whole different level of terrible, the principle remains the same. There were rampant false accusations of child molestation that broke out like a plague in the 1980s and 1990s. If an innocent child being assaulted and violated by a grown man is the worst thing in the world (and it may well be), than the second worst thing is an innocent man being accused and/or prosecuted for this crime. And this gives some level of cover to the true, horrific predators like Sandusky. Paterno’s lack of further action on the matter in 2002 has to be seen in this light as well.
You don’t have to be a Penn State alumni or fan of PSU to feel the chill and the sickness of this situation, especially among us Pennsylvanians. Just five days after this story broke, I can say with certainty that our great academic institution will be stained eternally because of this scandal. Simply offering up the biggest possible “sacrificial lamb” will not change these facts.