Patriot News Editorial: Obeying The Law Is Not Enough

The Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Patriot-News made this editorial the entirety of today’s front page:

There are the obligations we all have to uphold the law. There are then the obligations we all have to do what is right.

It has become increasingly clear that while Penn State University President Graham Spanier has not been charged with breaking any laws, he did not do what is right — for his school or, more importantly, for the alleged victims of coaching legend Jerry Sandusky.

Spanier needs to step aside. If he doesn’t, the university board of trustees needs to take that step when it meets this week.

As for Joe Paterno, the face of Penn State and the man who has pushed for excellence on the football field and for the entire university, this must be his last season. His contract should not be extended.

This is not about age. This is not about rebuilding a football team.

[…]

The attorney general has determined that Paterno and Spanier did everything the law required. But a university president must be held to a higher standard. The most famous coach in college football history must be held to a higher standard.

Since taking the reins in 1995, Graham Spanier has done great things for Penn State. He has built world-class facilities, added a law school, increased fundraising and strengthened the school’s reputation as a center for research.

But a leader who lacks moral authority has nothing. By doing the absolute minimum when hearing potentially serious allegations, by doing more to protect the school’s reputation than to protect children, Spanier has lost that moral authority.

Joe Paterno is a different story. That doesn’t let him off the hook. He should have done more. A man who has spoken with such affection for 46 years about “his kids” failed real kids when they needed him most.

But this incident does not undo a lifetime of achievement.

Some people will argue that Joe should step down immediately as well. Given what we know now, we don’t agree. Paterno should be allowed to finish out the year and retire with the honor and admiration he has earned since taking over as head coach in 1966.

It might always be honor with an asterisk, admiration with a shake of the head. Joe will have to live with that.

There will be other people who argue that Graham Spanier and Joe Paterno should not be punished at all. After all, they obeyed the law.

Eight little boys would have said: that simply isn’t enough.

via Aaron Brazell

FILED UNDER: Education, Quick Takes, Sports, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    Goddamned right it’s not enough.

  2. ponce says:

    Curiously, wingnuts seem far more bothered by pedophilia when football coaches engage in it than when priests engage in iit.

  3. James Joyner says:

    @ponce: Based on what evidence?

  4. John Peabody says:

    First of all, damn fine editorial. and front-page placement is perfect. As to the fact that the news is bigger than the priests… for better or for worse, college footbal is a higher temple for most people than churches. The football program is known quite well throughout the state. There is a bit of ownership, in that the resident’s taxes fund the school and the program. I see no real issue there.

  5. ponce says:

    Based on what evidence?

    Based on the number of wingnut blog posts about Penn State staff raping little boys vs. the number of wingnut blog posts about Catholic priests raping little boys.

    I’ve never seen a wingnut call for the Pope to step down.

  6. Some people will argue that Joe should step down immediately as well. Given what we know now, we don’t agree.

    I don’t think they should even be allowed to step down. They should be fired for cause.

    @John Peabody:

    There is a bit of ownership, in that the resident’s taxes fund the school and the program.

    While this is the case for many schools, at Penn State the athletics program is entirely self-funding; there’s no public money involved.

  7. grumpy realist says:

    @ponce: Rob Dreher fulminated quite a lot over at National Review. I wouldn’t call him full wingnut, though.

  8. James Joyner says:

    @ponce: But that’s rather spurious. The Catholic church sex scandal has been slowly breaking since I was in high school–well before the Internet as we know it, much less blogging. This scandal emerged fully formed and spread like wildfare through social media.

  9. ponce says:

    James,

    I think you just condemned social media as silly and unimportant in just a couple sentences.

    The entire right wing blogosphere is just one big cargo cult?

  10. James Joyner says:

    @ponce: To the extent it deals with issues, social media deals with what’s happening at the moment. The medium doesn’t lend itself to trend analysis.

    The bottom line is the Catholic Church scandal was decades-old news by the time blogging hit its stride. It’s been drip, drip, drip since the Reagan administration. The Paterno story broke Saturday afternoon and the magnitude of the Paterno angle became apparent within 24 hours. They’re just very, very different stories.

  11. John Burgess says:

    @James Joyner: I agree. Time is the bigger factor in the way the two issues have been covered than their similarities or differences. The Church-related cases came out slowly, covered first by print media that didn’t want to cover the story at all for local, political, and perhaps their own religious reasons. It eventually got picked up by broadcast on a national level and became a national, then international story.

    The PSU case opened in a climate primed to deal with the case (thanks to what had gone before) and with the tools to attack the story immediately and directly. Few of the commentators on Penn had any skin in the game other than their a) abhorrence of child molestation and b) love of college football. Well, there’s the ‘rule of law’ types, too…

  12. ponce says:

    To the extent it deals with issues, social media deals with what’s happening at the moment. The medium doesn’t lend itself to trend analysis.

    “The medium” can be whatever its content suppliers decide it is.

    I notice Andrew Sullivan, arguably the most influential Republican blogger, hasn’t mentioned the Paterno story yet.

    Blogging about something just because everybody else is blogging about it seems to be a recipe for mediocrity.

  13. Just nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    That President Spanier took no appreciable action is not surprising to me. In Washington, administrators have been in denial about their role as “mandatory reporters” for almost as long as the law has been in effect. In 2004, things got really bad in that the legislature discovered that almost all of the teachers punished for sexual abuse of their students were so punished only because the local police were called before the school administrator was called. Sexual offenders, even into the 2000s, have been reassigned to other schools, dismissed without prejudice, or appointed to administrative positions–sometimes still working directly with children.

    The legislature decided that it had had enough! From 2004 on, all school employees on employed on year-to-year contracts (substitute teachers mostly, but some aides, too) must reregister as not being sex offenders every year to be rehired. Problem solved.

    Hopefully, Pennsylvania will do a better job, but I do wonder what would we be reading and what the authorities would be doing if this event had happened at a school in a poor neighborhood in Philly instead of at Penn State?

  14. James Joyner says:

    @ponce: Sully’s a Brit. I actually care about college football and had strong views about Joe Paterno–almost completely positive–before this incident. This isn’t a case of jumping on an “everybody is covering it” story, although I have done that on occasion.

  15. ponce says:

    James,

    Fair enough.

    Sexual abuse happens frequently enough in programs aimed at kids that these alleged victims could be considered normal collateral damage.

    You don’t seem to have any problems accepting the fact that a certain percentage of innocent children will be killed by the U.S. military when it is operating in a foreign country.

    Isn’t it time America just accepted the fact that x percentage of boy scouts, football players, Sunday school students, etc. will be raped by the adults in charge of them?

    Why the sudden outrage about something that happens every day?

  16. @James Joyner:

    Could be worse, James. I’m a member of the Penn State athletic boosters and a season ticket holder. At least you don’t have to deal with the disgust of finding out you were bankrolling this whole mess.

  17. “I always turn to the sports section first. The sports page records people’s accomplishments, the front page has nothing but man’s failures.” — Earl Warren

  18. MarkedMan says:

    Sully, a practicing Catholic as well as a conservative (I don’t think he is Republican anymore) has been very outspoken on the Catholic church and has called the current Pope a criminal because of his involvement in the cover-ups.

    Ponce, I can’t believe you just made the argument: “I can’t accept your outrage on this issue as legitimate because I don’t think you are equally outraged about some completely different problem.”

  19. ponce says:

    MM,

    Perhaps I put that badly.

    I get tired of America’s habit of managing by crisis.

    How about this:

    Parents, there’s a fairly high probability that the scout leader/football coach/priest running your son’s activity is a pedophile.

    Don’t allow you kid to be alone with them until you are absolutely certain they aren’t a pedophile.

  20. anjin-san says:

    But a university president must be held to a higher standard. The most famous coach in college football history must be held to a higher standard.

    Damn straight.

  21. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The most famous coach in college football history must be held to a higher standard.

    What does Bear Bryant have to do with this?

  22. @ponce:

    Parents, there’s a fairly high probability that the scout leader/football coach/priest running your son’s activity is a pedophile.

    Bullshit. While it doesn’t excuse institutions who fail to take appropriate measures to protect children from pedophiles, a particular child’s chance of running into one is extremely low. The hysterical overreaction that there’s child predators lurking around every corner is just as unhelpful as the complete denial we’ve seen in situations like Penn State.

  23. ponce says:

    Stormy,

    It’s a fair bet that just about every scout leader/football coach/priest pedophile can count on clueless/indifferent parents to supply them sexual partners.

  24. @ponce:

    That’s not the same as saying they represent a high percentage of scout leaders/football coaches/priests as a whole.

  25. ponce says:

    That’s not the same as saying they represent a high percentage of scout leaders/football coaches/priests as a whole.

    Depends on what you consider “high.”

    I saw studies that concluded 5% of Catholic priests are pedophiles.

    What I’m saying is parents should assume scout leaders/football coaches/priests are pedophiles and act accordingly.

    So should the people who are in charge of scout leaders/football coaches/priests.

    Simple steps, such as never leaving a young boy alone with an adult, may cause some inconvenience, but it sure would cut down on instances of pedophilia.

  26. @ponce:

    What I’m saying is parents should assume scout leaders/football coaches/priests are pedophiles and act accordingly.

    No they shouldn’t. My company used to send groups of engineers to the local primary schools to try and get kids interested in STEM careers in various ways (judging science fars, mentoring, etc). Several years ago, they had to cancel the program due ot lack participation, and this attitude is a big part of why. No one wants to volunteer for kids related charities if it means everyone is going to assume you have a deviant motive in doing so.

    There’s a difference between sensible precautions and hysteria.