A Letter for Joe Pa

We’ve all been there. You’re in a terrible spot. Your head is spinning, and you can’t think clearly. That’s why I’m offering this letter for you, Joe. It’s a suggestion. Do with it what you will.

Dear Penn State Fans,

I write to you today with a heavy heart. I was wrong, so terribly wrong, and so terribly wrong on so many levels. And now I realize I have a profound need to apologize.

First, I need to apologize to all the boys who were hurt. I’ve spent my life caring for kids, and yet I turned a blind eye on the children who needed me most. I neglected those who were most vulnerable. That’s a terrible burden, one that I will carry to my grave.

Second, there is no excuse for my behaviour, but I want you to know that I was blinded by my loyalty to my friend, Jerry. He was my right hand man, and I just couldn’t possibly believe those terrible accusations. It was hard enough for me when I went to the school authorities, but now in hindsight, of course, I realize my response was inadequate. Terribly inadequate. I now know that I should have gone to the police.

Third, I need to apologize to the board at Penn State. I put you in a terrible position. Once I understood the seriousness of all of this, I should have immediately resigned. To force your hand on this, to force you to fire me was yet another failure of leadership on my part.

Finally, to the wider Penn State community, please remember that the real victims here are not the coaches or administrators. The real victims were the boys who were abused. You all have a right to be angry, but that anger should not be directed at the Board of Trustees. It should be directed at me.


Joe Paterno


6 thoughts on “A Letter for Joe Pa

  1. Now imagine this: What if the scene witnessed had been a man raping a young girl?

    Would that witness still have walked away?

    Stay with me here.

    If that witness still decided to walk away from a man raping a girl, and his inaction was later exposed, would the witness today be the subject of only criticism? Would he be allowed to continue his career at Penn State?

    Someone asked, “Would things have been different at Penn State if the victims had been girls?” From the Washington Post:
    Let’s move to the esteemed coach. Let’s say the witness reported to the coach that he saw one of his staff raping a girl. Would that coach have as easily downplayed it?

    For the benefit of argument, let’s say he did. Let’s say that this esteemed coach followed the exact same protocol as Joe Paterno did in real life. Let’s say he heard that one of his staff was raping a girl in the showers, and he downplayed it to his own higher-ups and then moved on.

    That leads to the last question: When years later, that esteemed coach’s failure to report the rape of a young girl was exposed, would hundreds of college students have rioted in his honor? Would they have felt as proud to chant “We want Joe! We want Joe!”?
    Much of the egregious behavior here has been attributed to protecting legacies and damage control (backfire much?) But is there also cultural bias at play? Were those involved and their supporters making assumptions about the victims? Or were they — are they — just not thinking about those kids at all?

    1. Don’t people walk away from violence against girls and women every single day? Don’t girls get rated as they pass by in the halls at school and later at work? Didn’t girls get left to die in China by parents who wanted their one boy? Don’t soldiers rape girls and women as a matter of course?

  2. Thee analogy being leadership tends to protect the institution. I found that to be true at the university where I teach, too. Twice I reprorted similar sexul assualts and found myself having to defend the reports and having to prod and even

    threaten the administration by reminding them I had personal
    notes on college stationary,in my department chair files, which
    made them official.

    I covered my tracks. In any case nobody
    was ever fired or officially charged. The two professors are
    now teaching at bigger more prestigous universities.

  3. Worth reading:

    The Devil and Joe Paterno

    WHEN I think about the sins of Joe Paterno, and the ignominious ending of his long and famous career, I think about Darío Castrillón Hoyos Castrillón is a Colombian, born in Medellín, who became a Catholic priest and then a bishop during the agony of his country’s drug-fueled civil wars. In Colombia, he was a remarkable figure: a “rustic man with the profile of an eagle,” as Gabriel García Márquez described him, who left his episcopal residence at night to feed slum children, mediated between guerrillas and death squads and reputedly made his way to Pablo Escobar’s house disguised as a milkman to demand that the drug kingpin confess his sins.

    But that isn’t how the world thinks of him today. In the 1990s, Castrillón was elevated to the College of Cardinals and placed in charge of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy, where he came to embody the culture of denial that characterized Rome’s initial response to the sex abuse crisis. Castrillón dismissed the scandal as just “an American problem,” he defended the church’s approach to priestly pedophilia long after it had been revealed as pitifully inadequate, and in 2001 he even praised a French bishop for refusing to denounce an abusive priest to the civil authorities.

    How did the man who displayed so much moral courage in Colombia become the cardinal who was so morally culpable in Rome? In the same way, perhaps, that college football’s most admirable coach — a mentor to generations of young men, a pillar of his Pennsylvania community — could end up effectively washing his hands of the rape of a young boy.

    It was precisely because Castrillón had served his church heroically, I suspect, that he was so easily blinded to the reality of priestly sex abuse. It was precisely because Joe Paterno had done so much good for so long that he could do the unthinkable, and let an alleged child rapist continue to walk free in Penn State’s Happy Valley.

    Bad and mediocre people are tempted to sin by their own habitual weaknesses. The earlier lies or thefts or adulteries make the next one that much easier to contemplate. Having already cut so many corners, the thinking goes, what’s one more here or there? Why even aspire to virtues that you probably won’t achieve, when it’s easier to remain the sinner that you already know yourself to be?

    But good people, heroic people, are led into temptation by their very goodness — by the illusion, common to those who have done important deeds, that they have higher responsibilities than the ordinary run of humankind. It’s precisely in the service to these supposed higher responsibilities that they often let more basic ones slip away.

    I believe that Joe Paterno is a good man. I believe Joe Posnanski of Sports Illustrated, the brilliant sportswriter who is working on a Paterno biography, when he writes that Paterno has “lived a profoundly decent life” and “improved the lives of countless people” with his efforts and example.

    I also believe that most of the clerics who covered up abuse in my own Catholic Church were in many ways good men. Of course there were wicked ones as well — bishops in love with their own prerogatives, priests for whom the ministry was about self-aggrandizement rather than service. But there were more who had given their lives to their fellow believers, sacrificing the possibility of family and fortune in order to say Mass and hear confessions, to steward hospitals and charities, to visit the sick and comfort the dying.

    They believed in their church. They believed in their mission. And out of the temptation that comes only to the virtuous, they somehow persuaded themselves that protecting their institution’s various good works mattered more than justice for the children they were supposed to shepherd and protect.

    I suspect a similar instinct prompted the higher-ups at Penn State to basically ignore what they described as Jerry Sandusky’s “inappropriate conduct,” and persuaded Paterno that by punting the allegation to his superiors he had fulfilled his responsibility to the victimized child. He had so many important duties, after all, and so many people counting on him. And Sandusky had done so much good over the years …

    The best piece about Darío Castrillón Hoyos was written by the Catholic essayist John Zmirak, and his words apply to Joe Paterno as well. Sins committed in the name of a higher good, Zmirak wrote, can “smell and look like lilies. But they flank a coffin. Lying dead and stiff inside that box is natural Justice … what each of us owes the other in an unconditional debt.”

    No higher cause can trump that obligation — not a church, and certainly not a football program. And not even a lifetime of heroism can make up for leaving a single child alone, abandoned to evil, weeping in the dark.

    1. “And out of the temptation that comes only to the virtuous, they somehow persuaded themselves that protecting their institution’s various good works mattered more than justice for the children they were supposed to shepherd and protect.”

      I really couldn’t have said it better.

      I do believe that there should be a law requiring mandatory reporting (to the police), of even the suspicion of child abuse. That way, terrible errors of judgment by otherwise good people are so much less likely to happen. The whole story is tragic already. I suspect that when more details come out, it will be terrible.

      I guess my question is, how are we ensuring that UCC will never have the same problem again?

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