My sister blogged on Paterno's (and Penn State's) fall here. Since it is unfair for me to post on my sister's blog and embroil her in debating the penalties handed out to Penn State by the NCAA, I set out some brief thoughts in my own blog.
One of the comments on her blog (from "Pebbles") said essentially that we should have no pity on the perpetrators -- they deseerve whatever they get. Whether or not this is correct, it at least suggests that we be sure we know who the "perpetrators" are. I have no quarrel with the trial and entencing of Sandusky. One may feel revulsion, sympathy, outrage -- whatever, with Sandusky; but he was charged and tried and convicted. And his crime is the greater in that no punishment can fix the damage he did to the lives of so many young boys in his charge.
But what of Penn State? And of Paterno? Two brief thoughts, concerning the process and the penalty.
1) The process: The essential charge against Penn State is that too much power was concentrated in the hands of too few people, most notably in Paterno's hands. But the process concentrated even greater power first in the Freeh Report -- one investigator's reading of the events -- and second in the NCAA commissioner's action. Freeh thus acts as prosecuting attorney and judge, with the NCAA meting out the penalty. Since the penalty requires us to believe that Paterno willfully covered up something that he knew and understood well, and since that charge is sharply at variance with 50 years of experience with Paterno in the public eye, it requires more process than an investigator handing down his own judgment. There is no place for Paterno or the university to make their defence. Without a real defence we have something like a lynching, not justice -- for the victims, for Sandusky, for Paterno, for Penn State.
2) The penalty: The penalty should be and is levied against Sandusky -- tried and convicted in a court of law. One commentator noted that when Baylor's coach tried to cover up a crime of murder involving one of his players, the NCAA refused to get involved on the grounds that it was a criminal offense. The courts are the ones to levy such penalties, not the NCAA. As it stands, the penalties are handed down with no due process, either in the Freeh Report or in the NCAA's own actions.
What I found most revealing was the decision to strip Paterno of 13 years of victories. That decision seems merely vindictive. Fines in excess of one billion dollars (including the loss of Big Ten revenue), plus loss of scholarships, and then the young men who had no part in any way in the events in question are told that they did not win anything, but simply forfeited?
There is talk of further legal action -- against Spanier for the alleged cover-up, and against Penn State for damages. One benefit of such action would be a real legal process, not just for the sake of justice for the victims, but so that we can know if the NCAA got it right, or if they were simply a lynch mob. Either way, the whole epsiode is a cause of grief for everyone involved.
One might ask what I think happened, what I think Paterno (and the university) did. I don't know. I would not be surprised, if we could learn the full truth, to discover that Paterno knew more than he admitted, and that he really did not understand what he was facing. It might seem odd to think that someone in his 70s, with so widfe experience of football, could be naive; but that may indeed be the case. Such naivety is no excuse; but it is a far cry from the charge of deliberately withholding information that Paterno knew to be true.
It also fits better with the local community's experience of someone who lived in a modest house beside a local park and used his high salary more for the bnenefit of the university than for himself (witness the Paterno Library). And with the experience of someone who insisted on his players holding higher academic standards than almost any other NCAA school. The charge was made in the past that Paterno didn't care enough about winning, because he really did want to build young men of good character.
My own sense at this point is that Paterno was better than he is being protrayed, and that he and Spanier took steps in 2001 that were wrong. Even granting a tragic naivety does not excuse him; as Freeh and the Commissioner stated, too much power was concentrated in his hands. But it reminds us that the one who committed so many crimes was Sandusky, not Paterno.
Some judgment and penalty is needed, but not a lynching.