A Supportive Defense for Joe Paterno and the Penn State Riots

I understand that I am in the minority of America when I profess my support for former Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno, and that I am in the minority of students here at the Pennsylvania State University when I say I support the riots that took place last night in State College.

I also understand that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

I grew up in Pittsburgh, raised by my mother who attended the nearby University of Pittsburgh and my father who skipped college altogether. I was a Pitt fan, through and through. I couldn’t stand the jerks residing three hours northeast in Happy Valley, and I couldn’t stand their old man of a football coach who had needed to retire to a coffin already. My parents by no means forced Pitt upon me. This fandom and these viewpoints were all my own, formed when a neighbor threw at my uninformed second grade self an entirely spur-of-the-moment “Pitt or Penn State?” and “Pitt” was the first thing to roll off of my tongue.

The fact that my younger brother was a Penn State fan and that I wasn’t particularly fond of said brother probably helped the Pitt cause. I despised Penn State throughout my entire childhood and adolescent years. When the time came to tour and apply to colleges, I only applied to a few. I didn’t apply to Pitt, as I knew I wanted to get away from the chaos that was my home life (sorry Mom, I still love you). Temple headed my list, but the thought of living in Philadelphia may not have been the best choice for me, considering the unhealthy number of Sidney Crosby jerseys I own. I applied to Robert Morris University, Gannon, Fordham, and probably a few others, but I knew I wanted more. I knew I could do better, and I knew I had bigger plans in life than those universities were going to help me achieve. So I bit the bullet; I applied to Penn State.

That turned out to be the best decision of my life.

I was accepted into every school I applied to, and debated Temple vs. Penn State for the next few months, ultimately deciding that I’d put my future (and more than all of my funds) in the hands of the Pennsylvania State University, main campus.

I have now been on both sides of the proverbial fence. I have hated Penn State and its supporters with all of my heart. I have rooted against them in bowl games, and I have wished negative things upon Joe Paterno and all of Happy Valley.

Thankfully, I can see that I was naive and biased and entirely uninformed, much like most of America right now in regards to this Penn State scandal.

When I say I defend Joe Paterno, I don’t say I defend Jerry Sandusky or his despicable actions, or Michael McQueary, the eyewitness to the incident, or the cover-up attempt(s) by athletic director Tim Curley or senior vice president for finance and business (and supervisor of campus police) Gary Schultz or university president Graham Spanier. All of those men, as far as I’m concerned, should be fired immediately (if not already) and jailed if and when all facts are present and they are proven guilty for trying to cover this up.

Curley is currently on administrative leave while Schultz was allowed to step down by his own request and return to retirement. Both men’s legal fees are being paid for by the university. Spanier was fired.

What came of Joe Paterno, though, was entirely unfair and absolutely wrong.

Just so we all have our facts straight, I’ll give you this piece that I have put together by searching and reading a number of reports on the incident, in addition to the 23-page Grand Jury Report:

On March 1st, 2002, then-graduate assistant Michael McQueary witnessed then-retired Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky and a child engaged in some sort of sexual acts in a locker room shower at the Lasch Football Building on-campus around 9:30 PM. McQueary immediately called his father, who suggested McQueary tell his superior, head coach Joe Paterno, about the incident. McQueary met with Paterno the next day, giving him, as McQueary has admitted under oath, a PG-13 version of what he saw.

Paterno immediately called his superior, athletic director Tim Curley, explaining what McQueary relayed to him. On March 3rd, Curley met with Paterno to discuss the incident. “Approximately one-and-a-half weeks later,” Curley and Gary Schultz, senior vice president of finance and business, and head of the department who oversaw campus police and public safety, called McQueary to a meeting, where McQueary reported what he saw. Afterwards, McQueary was “assured that they would look into it,” and that Sandusky’s keys to Penn State facilities had been taken, pending the outcome of the investigation.

While Joe Paterno was not physically present for this meeting according to the Grand Jury Report, there is simply no way I can believe he wasn’t made aware of the “fact” that Curley and Schultz were looking into the incident. Knowing Schultz oversaw campus police, why should Joe have done any more? Police have the right to keep findings and reports and progress on private cases like this confidential, so even if Joe had tried to follow up on the incident and done what every one of you perfect human beings in America claim you would have done, there’s no guarantee that he would have received any information anyway.

In addition, police are entitled to their prioritizing of individual cases, and any further inquiry by Paterno could have certainly prompted a “You don’t think we know what we’re doing?”-type response from Paterno’s friend in Schultz.

Regardless, Paterno says, in hindsight, that he should have done more. This is Joe being the humble humanitarian that he always has been, so I won’t disagree.

But that’s not what we Penn Staters are upset about or why we rioted.

We are upset at many things and many people right now, most notably the Penn State Board of Trustees and the media.

I know I speak for many when I say I blame the media for Joe Paterno’s demise. Through all of this, in all of the articles you’ve read, all of the ESPN specials you’ve watched, how many times have you heard the name “Joe Paterno?” Now compare that with the number of times you’ve heard “Jerry Sandusky,” “Tim Curley,” “Gary Schultz,” and “Mike McQueary” combined. Paterno comes out on top exponentially, and we fail to understand how that’s fair.

EDIT: I just saw the entire situation referred to as the Paterno Scandal…

Why should the man who did the most right out of anyone involved in the situation take this much of the blame? Why should, when you Google the words “Penn State scandal,” Joe Paterno’s face be four of the first five images to come up in the results? Why has ESPN pinned the handling of the situation solely on the greatest football coach to ever live, who did exactly as he was required to do, rather than the men who attempted to cover this up, or the man who, I don’t know, actually did the deed?

The media found a scapegoat in Joe Paterno. A defenseless, 84-year-old man who has done nothing but good for this university. Who gave the university nearly two decades’ worth of salary to build a library for its students. Who regularly appears at Penn State’s THON, which raises approximately $9 million for kids with cancer every single year. Who donated enough money for the university to build a spiritual center. Who has given his entire life back to the university as a mentor, a teacher, a friend, and, least importantly, a football coach.

The media defaced Joe Paterno. That’s part of why we’re angry.

The other part of why we’re angry has to do with the Board of Trustees’ decisions.

As mentioned before, the Board of Trustees voted to oust Paterno, while allowing McQueary to keep his job, Curley to take an “administrative leave” and Schultz to step back into retirement on his own.

The man who witnessed the event, who had the opportunity to call police right then and there, still has his job. Two of the men who tried to sweep the incident under the rug were allowed to leave under their own power, and are having their court fees paid for by the university.

Perhaps most maddening about the Board of Trustees’ John Surma’s statement last night, though, was when he told the world that all facts “are not yet present.”

They fired Joe Paterno without all facts being present. They fired Joe Paterno based on what the naturally biased media has presented. They fired Joe Paterno without knowing the whole story. They fired Joe Paterno because he was the biggest image associated with the case, and that was the easiest way to make it look – to the media – like they’re serious about the situation.

After all that man has done for the university, the Board of Trustees fired him before all facts were present.

Penn State fired Penn State before all facts were present.

That’s why we’re upset.

I’m not saying Joe didn’t need to go. He did, and he was going to at season’s end. But there was no need to jump to this. Does the Board of Trustees feel that, by firing Paterno now, they’re going to avoid controversy and negative media coverage during future football games? This move will only amplify that. The people won’t forget who coached the team for more than 45 years, and neither will the media.

That’s why we rioted. I am generally against violence, but I am never against voicing your own opinion and letting someone know they’re absolutely, blatantly wrong. When a group of leaders makes a decision this wrong and this shallow about a figure this large, people will stand up. I will stand up.

In stark contrast to what ESPN has portrayed to its millions of viewers, we aren’t rioting because our “God” is no longer our head football coach. There are absolutely reasons for what you’ve seen on television, and they aren’t what ESPN has been shoving down your throats. We are not a bunch of drunken, idiotic, aimless college students destroying our town because it will put us in the spotlight.

The image of Penn State was with The Board of Trustees, and they only tarnished it by ousting Paterno, especially as they let the others walk.

I have seen the following post many times in the last few days on Facebook and Twitter, in regards to Paterno announcing his retirement and wanting to coach the rest of the season:

“What job do you know where you can tell your boss, ‘You can’t fire me now, let me work another two months and then I’ll quit?”

I can only reply with a question asking, “What job do you know where you can perform your job at a legendary level, become the face of your company, give millions upon millions upon millions of dollars back to your job, then do everything required of you by law in the event of a scandal, perform exactly zero illegal actions, and still be fired?”

As I overheard one riot officer state last night, “Penn State had a black eye. Now it has two black eyes and a broken d***.”

I blame one black eye on Jerry Sandusky. I blame the other on the media, and the rest on the Board of Trustees.

The riots only made sure the world knew about it.

I am aware that the issue at hand is bigger than football. I have not lost sight of the real issue, the fact that Jerry Sandusky molested children. I speak for the entire Penn State community when I say we are deeply saddened and sorry for those involved as well as their families, and to say that we are sickened and disgusted by Sandusky is a vast understatement.

I prayed for the victims before finally going to bed last night. I haven’t been to church since Easter, and I felt the need to pray. I will be attending the Candlelight Vigil for Abused Victims which will be held on campus tomorrow night.

However, I couldn’t agree more with SI.com writer Joe Posnanski, as he states, “A kind word for Joe Paterno in this storm is taken by many as a pro vote for a child molester. A quick, “Wait a minute, Joe Paterno is a good man. Let’s see what happened here,” is translated as an attempt to minimize the horror of what Jerry Sandusky is charged with doing. It takes courage to stand behind someone you believe in when it’s this bad outside. It takes courage to stand up for a man in peril, even if he stood up for you.”

Joe stood up for this university all his life, and I’m sure he will continue to do so.

We stood up for Joe last night, and I know we will continue to do so.

Follow Troy on Twitter @TroyPfaff

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  • Tom Hasbrook

    You contradict yourself by saying “I’m not saying Joe didn’t need to go. He did.” If so, then there is no reason to defend him. Furthermore, his “millions” in donations to PSU are irrelevant, as well as any other good-natured acts by him. The central question is whether he is culpable or not. It is difficult to know because of the sketchy info in the media. However you apparently know enough to judge him guilty by saying he needed to go. So I don’t see the point of your article, which could have been compressed to half of what it is, still make your point but more effectively while wasting less of the reader’s time.

  • Paul Parker

    Does doing good things for your community, your university, & your world make you exempt from protecting the lives of innocent boys? Certainly, there are many to blame but Joe is not exempt! All of our good deeds don’t cover up your misdeeds. He knew and didn’t follow-up. How do you account for knowing this guy is raping young boys and he’s still got an office at the university. We can’t ignore the fact that Joe did alot of good but not to say anything more after all those years is unconsciousable.

  • Joe

    Joe was Sanduskys “best friend” Why didn’t he confront him himself and give him the ultimatum.
    This thing is bigger than you think weather you support Joe or not!
    He is not a defensless old man and if he was all about the university then he should have been wondering why things weren’t moving along and why ” his friend” was still allowed on campus and was still running aroud loose!If he felt his “best friend ” was doing something wrong he should have approached him himself!!!
    Joe is as much to blame as anyone else. With his clout he could have been very persuasive!
    His first and only concern was football or he would have stepped down without wanting to finish the season! If he was so ditraught over thie allegations he should have wanted to separate himself immediately or even years ago when he saw nothing was being done about this problem. Fottball came first to him not the victims he knew were being abused
    Shame on him!

    • Troy Pfaff

      If you could link to exactly where you’re quoting this “best friend” relationship between Joe and Sandusky, I’d appreciate it. Much of what I’ve read has stated Sandusky “was not particularly close with Paterno” in 2002 at the time of this incident, including the latest story from the Associated Press, found here: http://xfinity.comcast.net/articles/sports-general/20111115/Penn.State-Abuse/?cid=hero_media

    • Justin

      “This thing is bigger than you think weather you support Joe or not!”

      It’s “whether,” not “weather.” If you’re older than 7 you should know this. Great job making yourself look like a jackass.

  • courtney

    I agree with you completely! This is written absolutely perfect. You couldn’t have said it better. Thank you for this!!

    • john

      justifying a riot because your college’s football coach was fired? what troubles you have…what a cruel world! oh, the horror!

      grow up already…

      the world saw in the penn state riots one thing: a bunch of spoiled, lazy, drunk, and privileged college kids with too much time on their hands.

      someone could have been killed in that riot. what if that tv truck fell on someone and crushed them to death?

      i am curious how you would justify such a death…oh, i forgot, your college’s football coach got fired.

      really?

      • Troy Pfaff

        Thank you for proving that you read none of this article, and for making yourself look like a fool in proving the fact that you came onto this article with the sole purpose of posting something like this.

  • Charles

    I agree, the uninformed should not speak until they know the facts. I call what happened the “Lynch Mob Bandwagon” I live very close to all these events, Sandusky should die a slow painful death for what he did.

  • http://www.sports-kings.com Jim Racalto

    I personally blame McQueary. If I were in my 20′s as a grad-student and saw that happening, I would have thrown Sandusky into a locker and beat his ass. Then went straight to the cops. Penn State’s AD has no say over police, he should have skipped going to his superiors and told the police exactly what happened and what he saw. Going to Paterno then Paterno going to the AD opened up the chance to cover it up. I think Paterno was at some fault; he didn’t follow up nor did he ever wonder how Sandusky still had a job. But I think he is the least to blame of everyone as well.

  • Your article was something completely different from what I thought it was going to be. I thought you were just going to babble on about how Joe wasn’t wrong and it was bull. I should of known you would have more to say. The whole entire issue it terrible. I think they should of let Joe pick wether to retire or to be fire. When you talk about “Why should, when you Google the words “Penn State scandal,” Joe Paterno’s face be four of the first five images to come up in the results?” I’m not trying to point fingers and say you’re all terrible people, but the reason his name was the biggest in the scandal is because everyone knows how much he did for the university and it was a shock to see a legendary man do this. Also because when you guys rioted it made him more important to the scandal. All of a sudden it wasn’t about the victims or what Sandusky did, it was about a bunch of college students getting mad and rioting about their football coach. I know you explained why you rioted but the kids that were interviewed on ESPN were all morons. Yes only some of you took part in the riot, but it didn’t matter how many of you there were or why exactly you did it made Penn State look foolish. Your article was very impressive and I understand everything you had to say. It’s the first thing I read or heard about that actually made me understand why you all rioted. But, how many of you rioted when you heard about the victims? You only rioted when Joe got fired. I think they should clean house with the entire athletic department, they are all friends. I also blame McQueary he was a grown ass man when he witnessed it and he should of went to the police himself. As Joe should of. All of them could of done more and it sad to see the situation get this out of hand. There is probably more to come and hear about. As for now keep up the good work.

  • Colin

    This article hit the nail on the head. I was beginning to think I was crazy for feeling this way until I read this.

    I heard a football coach giving the list of coaches who have not cheated on tv today. The list had one name on it. Joe Paterno.

    This man consistently acted with ethics and morals and superior decision making and so I will not jump to conclusions on this man. I will give him the benefit of the doubt.

    If the media needs a story I heard there is a quarterback in Pittsburgh that raped a few girls and wants his job taken from him… Seems more deserving…

  • http://RantSports Alan

    This whole episode has been eye opening in may ways. The degree of vitriol directed at Joe Paterno and the focus on him seems to take away from the real culprit here, Jerry Sandusky, and the lessons we can take from this regarding the problem of sexual abuse in our society.

    Is Joe Paterno guilty of not following up? Perhaps-or perhaps not. Remember the information available is from a grand jury indictment, so it is not the complete story. After the testimony to the grand jury he was not charged with anything, so his failing was moral if anything. But follow up on Paternos part would not necessarily have been detailed in the currently available documentation.

    So it seems to me that we should wait until the whole story is out before we make any judgements on his actions. If he was guilty of inaction before then he will still be guilty after all the info has come out. Assumptions like “he must have known” are inappropriate given the seriousness of the charges, and the fact that any investigation on Sandusky would have been highly confidential. I don’t think he would have been privy to such info even if he had asked.

  • TheTruth

    Excellent article and summary.

    One point of clarification though: Paterno himself met with Schultz according to grand jury presentment. Schultz was called to the meeting between Paterno and Curley. Also, don’t forget that Curley called The Second Mile and referenced the “investigation”. Finally, it is worth noting that the Penn State Police Department that Schultz oversaw was NOT campus security. It is a statutorily created police department with full investigative and arrest powers, and would have been exactly the entity to whm a crime on campus would have been reported. Of course, the press has conveniently ignored this fact.