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The Penn State Scandal

The Penn State Scandal

Coach Paterno may have followed the rules, but is that enough?


Jason Gay, sportswriter for the Wall Street Journal, correctly mused how “treacherous it is to elevate mortals into myths.” He was speaking about the staggering and lightning-fast descent of the legendary college football coach, Penn State’s Joe Paterno.

The “Penn State Scandal,” as it is has become known, does not deal with a football player getting into mischief. It does not deal with an alumni booster violating NCAA rules. Nor does it involve a coach committing recruiting violations. This matter involves the far more serious and terrifying crime of child molestation.

The story has two major components. First, the alleged acts of a long-tenured assistant coach are the subject of 23-page criminal indictment handed down by a Pennsylvania grand jury. This issue will be properly adjudicated in a court of law with all of the appropriate protections of due process.

The second issue, which is of paramount inquiry to us, is the manner in which Coach Paterno and other Penn State officials responded after being informed of the actions in question.

Is it enough that he violated no state or federal law?

As of now, no one is accusing Paterno of any crime, or of any failure to follow the rules established by Penn State University. Yet is it enough that Paterno committed no crime? Is it enough that he followed the basic administrative guidelines? Is it enough that he violated no state or federal law? What else is required of him? What else is required of us?

When Paterno realized that the Penn State administration was not dealing with the situation (or perhaps covering it up), what should he have done? Was he under any further obligation? Even if he was under no legal obligation, is there a difference between the “letter of the law” and the “spirit of the law”?

The Torah states: “Do not stand idly on your brother’s blood” (Leviticus 19:16). This is an imperative to get involved when a situation goes awry. The Almighty created the world as a workshop for self-perfection. No matter what our station in life, no matter what our innate abilities, the Almighty puts us in a particular situation in order that we make the right choice – no matter how uncomfortable or how politically inexpedient.

Remember when Kitty Genovese was being stabbed to death on the streets of New York, as 38 people stood by as witnesses? None was “required” to step in or call the police. And none did.

That is surely not the Jewish way. Our Sages teach that even when there is potential danger to oneself, one is obligated to save another person from certain danger. (Hagahot Maimoniyot, Kesef Mishnah – Hilchot Rotze’ach; Beit Yosef CM 426)

Imperative to Act

So what would have been required in Happy Valley, Pennsylvania? When the graduate student walked into the shower room and allegedly discovered the horrific acts of the assistant coach, what should he have done?

He should have first attempted to stop it. And then he should have walked out and immediately called 911. But he did not.

Why did he not call the authorities if no one else had done so?

When the graduate student reported it to Coach Paterno, should Paterno have merely reported it to the school’s Athletic Director? Why did he not call the legal authorities? And if not at that time, why not when he realized that no one else had done so?

It’s hard to prove a negative. Nobody can know for sure how much one could have done or should have done to prevent a tragedy.

Indeed, Paterno and others may have acted “appropriately” under the letter of the law. But to be a role model – to be a hero to young athletes and to thousands of Penn State students and fans – we must demand a bit more.

In a similar vein, the Jewish people have been designated as a light unto the nations. Shall we live merely to the “letter of the law”? Shall we do only what is minimally required of us by secular law or other rules? Or shall we perfect our lives within the framework of Torah so that we send a clear message of how to act in even the most horrific circumstances?

The Torah says that if you have a chance to fix something in the world – whether stopping your colleague from an illegal act, or helping to feed starving children – and you do not act, then you ultimately bear responsibility. Perhaps, for that reason alone, the firing of Joe Paterno was justified.

November 13, 2011

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Visitor Comments: 66

(48) Jacob, February 9, 2013 5:57 PM

Judge Others Fairly

Judge others favorably and get the other side of the story before coming down on Paterno. If the locker room story is true as reported, then at least 3 key people failed to report the incident within an hour after it occurred - before it reached Paterno. He may not have received the information that he was reported to have received and that's why he did not call 911. The story does not make sense. Here are facts from trial transcripts. The Graduate Assistant (GA) was an assistant football coach, a faculty member. He allegedly witnessed an "in progress" violent crime upon a child in a campus locker room shower. He makes eye contact with them. Nobody says a word. He lets the boy alone with Sandusky. He fails to call 911. Instead, he calls his father to ask advice! His father, a Physician Assistant and CEO of a large medical-surgical physicians group, tells him to leave immediately & come to his house! The GA leaves the campus. He did not alert the Campus Police. As far as he knows, the boy is still with Sandusky. He does nothing for the boy's safety. Another man arrived at the father's house; a Physician, who is the father's boss and friend. If the GA told them the same story that he later told the Grand Jury, then both men received information about a young boy who was sexually abused within the last hour and was left alone with the perpetrator. As physicians, they would know that he needed emergency medical attention. One phone call from these prominent men would have had the State College police searching for the boy and Sandusky. Yet, they did nothing to locate that boy and to ensure his safety and health. As licensed health care providers, they had a higher reporting obligation then Paterno. They risked everything by doing nothing. Patenro did not know yet. Paterno received vague information. The jury had doubts. They convicted Sandusky of 45 out of 48 charges, but he was acquitted of the locker room incident.

(47) Norman Friedman, July 15, 2012 8:07 PM

Bravo - Mr. Linder

The article should be posted on every refrigerator of not only Jews but the rest of the population. Parents need to teach their children from an earily age that, "NOT TO RESPOND, IS TO RESPOND." Mr. Linder's supurb article says it all....If one takes no apropriate action, then one bares responsibility.

(46) chani, November 20, 2011 7:52 PM

I think the proper response is to ask yourself, and ourselves as a community, What would you do. . .if you saw a child rape in progress? If someone told you that he saw a child rape by a reputable person? Would you stop it? Would you report?

(45) Kimberly Lynn, November 16, 2011 11:18 PM

Penn State Irresponsibility.............

First of all Anonymous......Alot of sexual predator's go undetected for many years until they are caught & if you don't get caught then ppl are unaware of what kind of person is among them and can keep on commiting crimes for years to come,not all sexual predators have arrest records that can be looked up.Any one who knew or actually seen these children being molested by Sandusky should have reported him to the police and if the school didn't report it to the police, then if it is at all possible each one who knew it and didn't report it should be arrested and charged with some kind of child neglect,abuse etc. these people knew that there were crimes being commited against children & did nothing to STOP IT but done everything to PROTECT their school & the coaches and themselves. All of these ppl who did nothing to help those children should be charged for being accomplices just like you or I would be charged if we sat in the car while our friends were robbing a bank & killed the see if that were really happening you and I would have "the opportunity" to get out of the car and walk away while calling the "POLICE" and reporting the crime......these ppl are just as guilty as the predator......they enabled this man,like it or not. There is a witness that can place Sandusky in the shower w/ a child while watching Sandusky perform a sex act on the child. Hmmmm..........key word.....WITNESS.Oh' and the child is also a witness & victim at the same time.

(44) Anonymous, November 16, 2011 12:46 AM

quick to judgement

Sandusky is the alleged perpetrator. He is pleading not guilty to the molestations. All the facts/truth are not in. Don't make the mistake of jumping the gun. Sandusky is innocent till proven guilty. On another note, we had a rabbi in our city who sexually molested a youngster. The parents had to leave town because the boy could not overcome the trauma. The rabbi moved to New York and hired as principal. A Canadian news team caught up with him in New York. He would not give an interview.. After 15 years, aged 21, the lad committed suicide. It took another few years after the news team contact and then suicide for the rabbi to be fired. As of this date, the answer in this Paterno case is a blatant miscarriage. Oh, you think nobody knew about the Jewish principal ? They didn't check out his resume ? The guilt of Sandusky and Paterno is yet to be determined, yet they are already victims of assassination of character in the public forum. This article is pure loshon hora at this point. Shame on you. If Paterno had gone to the police and Sandusky was not guilty, the matter would have made spectacular headlines back then too. Paterno did enough. He reported it to the chain of command. Were there settlements made with families of the victims ? In today's world, settlements and non-disclosures being disclosed anyways. Let's wait for the truth. Sandusky and Paterno are already guilty in the public mind, and that is not going to change. One thing about human nature, people for the most part love to see the mighty fall. If Sandusky is proven guilty, then weigh in.

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