Letters to Me Defending Joe Paterno

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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.


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.

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Gary North [send him mail] is the author of Mises on Money. Visit http://www.garynorth.com. He is also the author of a free 20-volume series, An Economic Commentary on the Bible.

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