Monday, November 7, 2011

Should Joe Paterno be fired

Joe Paterno has the most wins in Division I NCAA football.
Joe Paterno holds the record for most wins.

Penn State football coach Joe Paterno has won more games than any coach in college football history. But now he faces a fight to keep his job because of something he could have done, but didn't.

The story involves one of the worst crimes imaginable -- child sexual abuse. Paterno is not accused, but one of his former assistant coaches has been indicted for the crime of molesting eight young boys.

The question for Paterno is whether he could have prevented more children from being harmed by acting differently when he first learned of the allegations. And the question for us is whether Paterno had an ethical duty to do so.

The man accused is former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky was long considered to be the the heir to Paterno's job. But Paterno continued to coach. He's now 84. Sandusky retired in 1999.

However, Sandusky remained close to Penn State, hosting summer football camps and working with a charity he founded called The Second Mile. A grand jury now accuses Sandusky of sexually assaulting eight boys between the years 1994 and 2009. The indictment alleges that about 20 of the incidents took place while Sandusky was employed at Penn State.

The charges say Sandusky would give boys sporting gear, sports clothing and trips to sporting events, including a Penn State bowl game. The grand jury says Sandusky then coerced the boys into involuntary sexual relations. The key incident occurred in 2002, after Sandusky had retired. According to the indictment, a graduate assistant walked into a Penn State team locker shower room and saw Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy about 10 years old

Sandusky being arrested.
The assistant reported it to Coach Paterno, who immediately informed his boss, the athletic director. The athletic director barred Sandusky from bringing children to the the campus. But the athletic director never informed police, and now he has been indicted himself for covering up the abuse. No one ever tried to discover the identity of that 10-year-old victim or stop such crimes from happening again.

Police did not become aware of sexual abuse allegations against Sandusky until 2009, when another boy's mother made allegations to the high school her son attended. That school not only banned Sandusky, it triggered a state investigation.

"The failure of top university officials to act on reports of Sandusky's alleged sexual misconduct, even after it was reported to them in graphic detail by an eyewitness, allowed a predator to walk free for years -- continuing to target new victims," Attorney General Linda Kelly said in the report. "Equally disturbing is the lack of action and apparent lack of concern among those same officials, and others who received information about this case, who either avoided asking difficult questions or chose to look the other way."

The question for you is what what was Coach Paterno's ethical duty in this case. He broke no law. He did what the law requires, and reported it to his supervisor. After all, Paterno's job is to be a coach, not a police officer. And even now, no one has yet been convicted of a crime.
However, some people think Penn State needs to immediately clean house because of this scandal, firing everyone including Paterno.
Others say the scandal was allowed to grow like a mushroom in the dark because Paterno wrapped his football program in a shroud of secrecy. "Practices are closed to the media. Assistant coaches are off-limits. Reporters have virtually no access to players," writes one reporter. In such a program, many dark secrets can be hidden, the writer says.
Sandusky and Paterno
Paterno's defense is that he was never told about the "very specific actions" of child abuse observed by his graduate assistant, implying he might have acted differently if he had known. Paterno said he met his responsibilities by reporting the incident to the athletic director. He's saddened about what has happened to the victims, Paterno says, but now people need to let the legal system do its work.

Did Paterno do enough? Did he have a duty to protect that unknown 10-year-old and other children? Did he have a moral obligation to inform police? Did he have a duty to ask deeper questions of the graduate assistant and discover the details of what happened back in 2002?

Or did coach Paterno do enough by following the law, reporting it to his supervisor and expecting that they would uncover the truth? Should the winningest coach in college football keep his job?