Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Joe Pa

Imaginary Tales, right? Doesn't get much more imaginary than Bowl Subdivision football, where a "National Champion" is crowned each year without any semblance of a playoff system.
But let's talk real world. Joe Pa died on Sunday. While sad, it's made sadder for how things ended for Joe Pa at Penn State. After all, Joe Pa lived a long life and dying is going to reach all of us sooner or later. At the end of a long, happy life is about as much as we can hope. Joe Pa almost reached that, but for the last 3 months.

I hope, but don't expect, that the hoardes who called for his head, and the spineless board at Penn State, take some time to reflect on the reality of how Joe Pa was treated in the last 3 months.

Let's start up front by saying that the alleged victims of Jerry Sandusky, if they were actually victims, suffered far more than Joe Pa. But at this point, we have alleged victims. Over 7 billion humans weren't present when whatever happened between Sandusky and the alleged victims happened. Whether it was the innocent hijinx that Sandusky claims or the brutal sodomization that Commonwealth prosecutors allege is unknown to me and everyone else who wasn't there, and apparently to at least one person who was there, McQueary.

Let's also make clear that what Joe Pa was told by McQueary isn't what was told to the investigative authorities at Penn State or police authorities when they eventually were involved years later. Everyone agrees that McQueary gave Joe Pa a sanitized version of whatever it was he saw or heard that didn't go beyond saying there was something off about what he saw. Based on that minimal information, Joe Pa had McQueary talk to the proper investigative authorities at Penn State.

The legions who say that Joe Pa should have done more are a mystery to me. What should he have done? Go to the police? With what? He didn't see anything. He had second hand knowledge only. Follow up with the administration authorities? Sandusky was banned from campus. How is it Joe Pa's responsibility to find out from the administration if anything more was being done? For all he knew the administration had informed the police and no further action was going to be taken. Remember, Sandusky had been accused of inappropriate behavior once before in the '90s, which was investigated by the police with no action taken. Since when is Joe Pa supposed to have become a police authority unto himself?

Which is what kills me about all these 20/20 hindsight prognosticators. They would have looked into it more/gone to the police. I could just see and hear them now, though if Joe Pa had. "Joe Pa thinks he's so important that he's conducting his own police investigations. What kind of cult of personality is he running at Penn State?" Damned for not doing. Damned if he had.

And yet Bill Plaschke of the LA Times and a plethora of other bloviators have claimed that Joe Pa covered up what Sandusky was doing. They blather on and on that Joe Pa knew Sandusky was raping young boys and, by not arresting Sandusky himself (it would seem), was not only tacitly approving Sandusky's behavior but acting in furtherance of it. Plaschke in particular claims that Penn State had (has) a cult of personality around Joe Pa and that Joe Pa was allowing Sandusky to continue unimpeded in order to protect his legacy at Penn State.

Except, of course, for the fact that there never was a cult of personality around Joe Pa. That's not to say that people didn't admire Joe Pa. People did. People still do. It's also not to say that Joe Pa's words didn't carry authority and influence at Penn State and the wider world. But Joe Pa earned that. He didn't create a PR machine to promote himself. He didn't surround himself with sycophants. He didn't rule the decisions of Penn State's administration. He ran a football program that, for more than 40 years, churned out degree holding young men and adhered to the arcane and obfuscatory NCAA rules, no small feat in itself. If a player couldn't adhere to the rules of NCAA football, he couldn't play for Joe Pa.

So, if Joe Pa was willing to throw aside highly skilled players who would have helped his team win more games, why wouldn't Joe Pa be willing to turn over a former coach to the police, if he had first hand knowledge of criminal activity of any sort, let alone something so heinous as what's alleged against Sandusky? The idea that Joe Pa and his cult of personality prevented Penn State from "doing the right thing," which everyone seems to know quite well in hindsight, is not born out at all by the facts of both what Joe Pa knew and what Joe Pa had done throughout his career.

It's easy to get on the ex post facto bandwagon and say that Sandusky was raping boys on Penn State's campus, that Joe Pa knew about it, and that Joe Pa covered it up. It's a lot harder to prove that was the case. But that didn't stop the witch hunt for Joe Pa's job. And in the end the board of trustees at Penn State, in probably the most cowardly firing in the history of sports, fired Joe Pa.

Did Joe Pa whine about that? No. In fact, Joe Pa said that he wished there was more that he could have done. As always, Joe Pa was a man of honor and class. In a storm of CYA, he let the media and the board hang him out to dry. He took the blame for others' failings.

And now he's gone. Rest in peace, Joe Pa. You didn't deserve the flaying you received in the last three months, but you accepted it with courage and dignity. You never put yourself ahead of the alleged victims. You deserved a better last three months, but you showed the world how to weather false accusations and weak leadership, all while suffering from the disease that took your life. Courage under fire.


  1. I respect your opinion but completely disagree. It happened on his watch, and it happened a lot. Pretty much the most dispicable crime there is. Much like Boeheim at Syracuse, there was a willingness to close eyes at Penn State. Your job as a coach at an educational institute it to safeguard the children that pass through your doors. Joe Pa failed miserably and got what he deserved. That you continue to view it as "a witch hunt" and your overuse of terms like "alleged" tells me your not willing to face up to what happened. Witches aren't real. Sexual abuse of children at Penn State was. -Bill

  2. Sorry, Bill, but sexual abuse of children at PSU is still unproven. There's been no public showing of the evidence in support of the allegations. There's been no chance for Sandusky to present his case. At this point we have only allegations, and not particularly bold ones, considering the legal maneuver that the Commonwealth's Attorney used to bring the charges. Until Sandusky is convicted of sexually abusing children, or admits it, then alleged is the only term I can responsibly use.

    Leaving that aside for the moment, I fail to grasp your reasoning on Joe Pa's responsibility. If there was sexual abuse of his players by someone currently on his coaching staff, I'd agree. But in this case the abuse is of children involved in a program that had nothing to do with Joe Pa or his football program at PSU and the alleged abuser was a former coach. Even assuming the current allegations are true, I see no way Joe Pa can be held ethically or legally responsible for the acts of Jerry Sandusky unless he did something to actively further the abuse. Telling McQueary to report what he saw to the proper investigative authorities at PSU is hardly actively abetting a crime. To any reasonable mind, it's seeking the investigation of a possible crime.

    Until someone can show me that Joe Pa took active steps to cover up what he knew to be sexual abuse by Sandusky then witch hunt is the proper term for what happened to Joe Pa. Show me the evidence and I'll be more than happy to say he should have been forced out. So far, the evidence isn't there.

  3. This is an interesting problem because Joe was roasted in the court of public opinion long before the facts were out. Because of the nature of the crime, everyone wanted to point at someone and unfortunately that someone was Joe.

    Could he have done more? Maybe.
    Should he have done more? Yes, if he knew more. If there wasn't anything real then he did what he should have done.

    I think Joe's biggest mistake was not presenting arguing his side in public. By saying nothing the assumption of guilt grew and things escalated wildly out of control.

    Silence may have worked 40-50 yrs ago, but today, with the media frenzy, saying nothing is equivalent to being guilty. Whether you are or are not.

  4. With the media frenzy, saying something isn't likely to help, either. What could he say? I did what I was supposed to do? The media was already assuming that and pillorying him for it.

    Besides, at 84 I don't think he was likely to suddenly become a media hound like Gruden or Johnson. He wasn't out there in State College for the media. He was out there for the program.

  5. Unproven doesn't equal didn't happen, and there's plenty of evidence. Sandusky was indicted on 42 counts of child molestation by a grand jury. You're acting like Paterno was put in jail unconvicted. He wasn't. He was fired from his job for what allegedly happened in his building under his watch. That job was a priviledge, not a right. His is not the only job in the world where even a hint of impropriety leads to dismissal. -Bill

  6. Sounds like a civil suit for Joe Pa for wrongful termination to me. Not that he'd ever pursue that, nor his heirs.

    As I said before, indictment by a grand jury doesn't mean much. It's a one sided proceeding. Only the prosecution gets to put on evidence, and only what evidence it wants. Whereas, at trial there's a defense and the prosecution has to disclose evidence even if it's detrimental to its case. A grand jury indictment is not guilt, whether its one count, 42 counts, or 300 counts. It's accusations only.

    I don't work for a company that fires based on accusations only, and mighty glad of it am I. Considering the nature the bitching and moaning that people do in my job, all of us would be fired quickly if accusations alone were sufficient.

    I question the line of reasoning that it's his responsibility because it happened in his building. Does that mean if a lacrosse coach abused kids Joe Pa should be fired, too? Basketball coach? Only football coaches? If he's responsible for so much of what happens at PSU, why not fire him if there's a cheating scandal in the chemistry department because someone's trying to get a federal grant?

    It's a mighty slippery slope that led to Joe Pa's firing. I don't think anyone should feel comfortable about it.