Friday, November 11, 2011

A Penn State student criticizes the media

A Penn State student has ripped into the media's coverage of the sexual assault scandal at that university. In his letter, he leaves little doubt of his belief that the media caused the firing of legendary football coach Joe Paterno.
Let’s take a look at those who were aware that something was going on. McQueary, who was the grad assistant that saw Sandusky sexually assaulting a young boy in one of the football locker room’s showers. McQueary’s father, who’s son consulted with him immediately after discovering what was happening with Sandusky and one of the victims. Paterno, who was informed that there was something going on between Sandusky and a child. Curly and Schultz, the Athletic Director and VP for Business and Finance respectively, were made aware of the situation by Paterno. Last but certainly not least, there’s the now former President Graham Spanier. There were a number of Janitors who aware were of a similar incident as well.

Of all of these people, McQueary and his Father did what was legally required of them, as did Paterno. It could be argued that Curly and Schultz followed legal procedure by informing Spanier, but what was told to Spanier is not clear. Graham Spanier is ultimately responsible for not making sure that the authorities were contacted. I’m not talking a half-assed University Police report that gets dismissed (that’s what you get for putting Schultz in charge), I’m talking a full blown legal investigation.

Last night on ESPN, one of the reporters made a comment about the students being frustrated with the media. It seems like he didn’t understand the way things had played out since he had been on the reporting end the entire time.
When it comes down to it, much of the student body agrees that Paterno was vilified over the past few days. Sandusky, Schultz, and Curly had already been arrested, the story was over. But wait! Joe Paterno is involved, now there’s a story. Think about it. How many times in the past 4 days have you heard Sandusky mentioned during any of the reporting. How many times have you heard Curly mentioned? Schultz? Even Spanier? Each of these guys had much more of an obligation than Paterno, yet they still didn’t fulfill their duty. People keep claiming Paterno was involved in the cover up, he could have done more since he is the most powerful man at Penn State, and many even went as far as claiming that the students were mindlessly rallying behind Paterno without looking at the facts. If you believe any of these, let me fill you in on a few things you may not know or may have overlooked.
He goes on to state that Paterno's character and ethics have been unfairly questioned, and that his firing has caused a crater-like drop in morale throughout the campus. At the end, he reaffirms that whatever anger there is now will not cause the values that are the university's to be undermined.

The letter represents a powerful statement in support of Joe Paterno and the entire Penn State community. And my intention here is not to rip into anything he has said. However, I do want to pose some important questions:

1. Why was it wrong for the media to ask what Paterno knew, when he knew it, and what he did once he knew? For the media to not ask questions of the head coach would have been a gross error. Fair or not, as the head coach -- and someone who has been there for 60 years -- Paterno is going to be viewed as a central figure in this case.

2. What evidence is there to suggest that the media caused Paterno's dismissal? A persuasive argument can be made that the Board of Trustees was cleaning house, and Paterno was going to be swept aside no matter what he had done. Moreover, if the media's questions brought down Paterno, then only one conclusion can be made -- the head coach had few powerful people in his corner.

3. Setting legal obligations aside, didn't Paterno have a moral or ethical responsibility to get an update from someone as to whatever investigation was taking place? And if Spanier wasn't doing that (as the student suggests he should have been), then wouldn't it have been incumbent on Paterno to ask why?

4. The coach's own words -- "I wish I had done more" -- echo loudly. Why was this statement not considered in the aforementioned letter?

In an attempt to help my students understand what was taking place at Penn State, I outlined the following hypothetical scenario for them:

Imagine one of them comes to me today and tells me they are contemplating suicide. In response, I immediately call my supervisor and report what I know. She tells me she will immediately get in touch with the appropriate people on campus.

Over the next couple weeks, I see this student in my class, but I never once ask how he/she is feeling. Moreover, I never once go to my supervisor and ask if the student is getting any help.

Then one day I get to campus to learn that the night before, that student took his or her own life. Later that day, the student's parents and I spend a few minutes together. When I tell them I did only one thing -- tell my supervisor -- but nothing more, can I do so and look at them squarely in the face?

No two circumstances are the same, and I'm not suggesting that in the above hypothetical scenario that the university would have fired me for what I did or didn't do. But I am saying that perhaps using the "I met my legal responsibilities" would not be enough for me.

It also might not have been enough for Mr. Paterno.

The student's letter deserves your attention. Read it. Consider what he suggests. And respond to it thoughtfully.

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