Friday, November 11, 2011

The Lion, the Witch Hunt, and the Wart Hog: "Penn State on a Stick"

By Charles Moncrief

For the last twenty years I've imagined the way I would teach a homiletics (sermon-preaching) course in a seminary. At the beginning of the course I'd give each student the Bible texts and the scheduled preaching dates. On the date of each sermon, at the beginning of class I'd give the student preacher a breaking news story. This simulates real-world experience, in which a congregation, stunned by shocking news, hopes to hear a word of authority or wisdom from the person in the pulpit. Suddenly, all of the previous week’s preparation may just go down the tubes. Gone is the witty and pithy erudition, replaced by something that must speak to a genuine human need. Such is the case with my article for November, as we must all come to terms with the revelations from Penn State. Maybe I'll submit that article in a future month.

The trouble is, I'm still trying to collect my thoughts as much as anybody else. And every attempt eludes me when I try to make a measured response to something as appalling as the reports coming out of this fine university. Even worse, no matter what I write, it’s obsolete and inaccurate when the next revelation comes.

Here are a few basics that I understand as I write (or as I write at this on the night of November 10.
1.       Joe Paterno has been fired as head football coach at Penn State.
2.       Jerry Sandusky, an assistant coach at Penn State, has been arrested for child molestation.
3.       Coach Paterno knew something inappropriate had occurred and did not adequately respond.
4.       Mike McQueary, a 28-year-old former Penn State quarterback and then a graduate assistant, in the evening of March 1, 2002 witnessed Sandusky raping a ten-year-old boy in the locker-room shower.
5.       The president of Penn State has been fired.
6.       McQueary is, as of today, the recruiting coordinator and wide receivers coach for Penn State.
7.       McQueary has been asked not to be in the stadium on Saturday (November 12) when Penn State plays the Cornhuskers in Nebraska.

Now I have read what I believe to be the grand jury presentment concerning the Sandusky case. The 23-page, highly graphic version is largely consistent with the semi-sanitized report from at least one well-known newspaper from an Eastern state. I'm willing to accept what I've read as mostly factual. According to the text of the report:
1.       McQueary [the former college football player] “left immediately, distraught.”
2.       McQueary went to his father’s home to ask for advice. Receiving the advice, he met the following day (Saturday) with Coach Paterno.
3.       On Sunday, March 3, Paterno gave the Penn State Athletic Director a less intense and less graphic version of the encounter than McQueary gave to the Grand Jury. [Keep in mind, testimony to the Grand Jury is approximately 9 years after this particular incident. It is not appropriate, strictly speaking, to accuse Coach Paterno of shading the truth at this particular juncture.]
4.       About ten days later McQueary was called to a meeting with the Athletic Director and Gary Schultz, the Senior Vice President for Finance and Business. McQueary reported to them that he had witnessed what he believed to be Sandusky [inappropriate sexual contact] with a boy in the showers [quoted, but emphasis mine].
5.       Even though Mr. Schultz managed the University Police, McQueary never received any communication from that body.
6.       The allegations of sexual misconduct in 2002 were similar to allegations that had been made in 1998.
7.       McQueary next testified to the Grand Jury in December, 2010 [more  than 8 years later]
8.       In the fall of 2000 two Members of the Penn State janitorial staff witnessed certain improper acts between Sandusky and another boy. While the employees were “distraught,” they did not want to lose their jobs by reporting to anyone above their immediate supervisor. [Personal commentary: The so-called “Whistleblower Protection Act” of 1989 was Federal, not state. Even so, a state counterpart, if any, was as useless then as it is now for protecting whistleblowers; the US Government and any other entity lies through its teeth whenever it claims whistleblowers have any protection. From a standpoint of protecting their jobs, the janitors acted prudently.]

The Grand Jury’s presentment against Sandusky describes incidents involving 8 different victims of Sandusky’s alleged sexual misconduct. The University had multiple opportunities to address the allegations long before any activity involving Coach Paterno occurred -- according to the Grand Jury presentment.

Here’s what bothers me, while I stay as close to the facts as I'm capable at this point. Coach Paterno may have violated a Pennsylvania statute that requires reporting to a police entity within 48 hours after witnessing an incident such as McQueary reported. Since Mr. Schultz managed the University Police, and since the University Police are real cops (not the Kampus Kops, or KKs, that students tend to take lightly), an argument could be made that Coach Paterno was eight days late in putting the allegation into police ears.

In addition to this, Coach Paterno witnessed nothing. He heard an account from the witness, so the burden of compliance actually rested with McQueary. Any report from Coach Paterno would be hearsay, given credibility only because of his reputation.

As our heads cool, and as our knees stop jerking, we need to ask ourselves several important questions.

First, who fails and where? For example, Alfred tells Bob “I saw a man having illegal sexual contact with a male minor.” Alfred doesn’t go to the police, and neither does Bob. Instead, Bob tells Clarice what Alfred told him. Clarice tells Daphne, who tells Eddie. Finally, “Victim Number 2” goes to the police and makes a report. Should we insist upon five jail cells, one each for Alfred, Bob, Clarice, Daphne, and Eddie? Or should only Alfred and Bob go to jail? Or should only Alfred?

Second, why is it that McQueary still has a job? Why is it so important for Penn State officials to parade around the nation with Joe Paterno’s carcass on a stick? Do they seek to appease the NCAA, whose fangs are finally drying up from the blood of Jim Tressel and Devier Posey of Ohio State? Do they need to soothe ruffled feathers of advertisers, legislators, and alumni? If they think they’re making alumni happy, they have a lot of PR to catch up with.

“Paterno on a Stick.” Has quite a ring to it, don’t you think? Makes for better publicity than “Spanier on a Stick” or “Curley on a Stick”. And I won’t even try to say “Schultz on a stick” out loud. And quite honestly, I'm not wasting energy on what any of them are going through. In my opinion a university president is expendable, and C-titled executives are a dime a dozen. But a football coach who has made so much difference in people’s lives? Whatever else we may think about whether Coach Paterno ought to be skewered, his downfall is a loss and a great loss at that.

Forgive me for making light of something I don’t at all take lightly. But while we’re asking questions, why is it that a former college quarterback, less than thirty years old, ran away from the locker room and left a ten-year-old boy in the presence of a sexual predator and pedophile? Why wasn’t Sandusky lying on the floor, holding his groin and writhing in agony after McQueary ripped him away from the child and repeatedly kicked his naked body at the focal point?

One more comment and I'm done with this part. The Pennsylvania state police commissioner, the Grand Jury, and the Pennsylvania Attorney General are unanimous in saying that Joe Paterno is not a target of investigation into criminal wrongdoing.

Now for my own bias. This is the sort of thing that reinforces my contempt for law and lawmakers. It, and they ,have no substance when it comes to moral imperatives. What’s legal and what’s RIGHT are hardly ever the same.

Joe Paterno failed morally, ethically, and humanly in all of this. He made wrong decisions, and he knew better. I assert this as positively as I do, because college coaches have led hundreds of thousands of boys into manhood over the last hundred years. And in the last several decades college coaches have led countless girls into womanhood. Coach Paterno has done too much for teenage children, both on and off the field, during his forty-plus years to claim ignorance or plausible deniability. His moral standard is a hundred times as high as his legal standard. I'm not talking about the one he lives by; I'm referring to the one he ought to live by.

No coach at any college or university has a perfect record as a mentor, so we have to deal with it. When Texas A&M football coaches took their teams to the Chicken Ranch as a reward for winning, some of the players lost their virginity as a result of the mentoring. The Duke lacrosse players were called “good kids” even though they set themselves up for the false accusations by even going to the strip clubs at all. And should we even talk about steroids, money, or any of the other dark-side mentoring by coaches along the way?

But back to Joe Paterno. Many are ready to hang the man in effigy because they’re angry about the permanent injury done to many juveniles. And let’s not kid ourselves. The number is most likely much more than the Grand Jury’s 8 victims. But Joe Paterno did not perform any of those acts of pedophilia; Jerry Sandusky did. And fortunately, Jerry Sandusky will have very little opportunity to damage any more children’s lives.

What Joe Paterno did was punctuate the famous quote by Edmund Burke. Coach Paterno, by his failure to act, put about ten exclamation points on the statement that the surest way for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

But we have bigger fish to fry. There are hundreds of victims who need our prayers, and it’s time to let the flawed criminal system do its job as we get about the higher business of praying for recovery.


Grace and Peace,

For anyone interested, let me recommend John 8:2-13 for your reading pleasure.
“He [or she] who is without sin, let him [or her] cast the first stone.”

Anglican Priest, Charles Moncrief, serves up the issues of the day on a platter mixed with scripture, seriousness, and a sense of humor to create a ministry founded in love for his fellow man.

“I’m an Anglican Priest, disguised as a geek during the week. It’s REALLY tough to change my costume, since phone booths are getting hard to find!”

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