Monday, November 14, 2011

Thoughts about Paterno getting the boot

Before I begin, I'd like to thank Al Michaels for earlier tonight dropping the latest edition of the stupidest, least creative, most trite joke in the history of sports commentary. The Jets had just forced Tom Brady into intentional grounding while he was in his own end zone, earning themselves a safety. The score was Patriots 6 Jets 2. Al:

Looks like we've got a game going on between the Red Sox and the Yankees!


Moving on to the NCAA football scandal of the week (this time with extra horribleness and nightmares!). I didn't feel compelled to write anything else about it until I had long conversations with two different friends in the past week. Contrary to my own views, those friends both thought Paterno's dismissal was unwarranted. And since those friends constitute 20% of the blog's readership, I will respond to their concerns with what I think is the simplest, clearest way to explain that the dismissal was absolutely necessary. It's worth noting that neither friend attended Penn State, and only one has any affinity for the school (since one of his parents was a professor there when he was a little kid). I'm not dealing with blind fanboys here.

First I'll clean up a couple side points. Both friends wondered why more outrage hasn't been directed towards Mike McQueary. For the most part, I agree with them. He should be fired. Fine by me. Putting aside the fact that keeping him around would just be kind of weird, he pretty much failed as badly as Paterno did. Paterno's failure means more because of his position, mind you, but McQueary bombed just as spectacularly when it came to preventing the rape of children. Ideally he would have actually stopped Sandusky when he stumbled across the 2002 incident. Failing that, he would have immediately called the police. Failing that, he would have followed up with Paterno and the high level school administrators (who met with him after his initial report and told him not to worry his pretty little head about it) and told them that he needed to know exactly what was being done about the incident and what changes would be made going forward. If they couldn't clarify things and tried to duck and dodge behind some "Oh, we've handled it" bullshit, he should have gone to the police. Since he did none of those things he can go fuck himself. Whether it was because he wanted to keep his job and feared losing it if he pushed the issue, because he didn't know quite what to do, or simply because he honestly believed that the administration had taken care of it, his inaction almost certainly facilitated more crimes. Fuck him. So there you go, we agree on something.

The other side point is kind of a macro-level analysis of the Paterno situation and is a little bit simplistic. But I think it's worth considering. Both friends conceded that Paterno could have done more. Paterno himself concedes that he should have done more. All three of them don't think Paterno should have been fired. How about this, though- put yourselves in the shoes of the university president (or perhaps in the shoes of a potential donor, ready to write a check if you feel good enough about the school). If you're the guy in charge or a person making an important choice about discretionary income, do you really want to have the most powerful guy on campus to be someone who doesn't do absolutely everything they can to prevent child rape? Do you want that guy to be someone who fulfills his legal obligation, shakes his head sadly for a minute because one of his oldest friends is destroying lives, and then calls it a day? I'm just saying.

Now, the one thing Paterno defenders have been saying about this argument is that maybe Paterno had no idea what was actually going on. Maybe McQueary didn't make the details clear enough. Great, let's discuss that possibility. Because while this is a complex situation with a lot of different events and actors, I think the question as to whether or not Paterno should have been canned can be reduced to what happened in the aftermath of McQueary's initial conversation with Paterno. As I see it there are only three possibilities as to what happened and they all force me to the same conclusion.

Possibility #1: McQueary was crystal clear when he told Paterno about what he saw (by which I mean he didn't use ambiguous language like "they were horsing around" or "Sandusky was doing something inappropriate" but rather "he was having sex with the kid, I am 100% sure of that"), Paterno understood exactly what McQueary was saying, and then Paterno responded by sending a report up the chain of command and nothing more.

Conclusion: Fucking fire his ass. The reason is pretty obvious as far as I'm concerned. You're the boss. Penn State football and its facilities are your domain. You need to keep control of the program and those facilities at all times and do everything you can to prevent horrible crimes from happening on your watch. You've just been told that someone who is still somewhat involved in the program and has access to the facilities is raping kids. Your obligation, unless you have a good reason to distrust McQueary, is to 1) get the police involved and 2) make sure this person never again comes anywhere near your program or your facilities. Your chosen response is to kind of sort of get the administration involved and then leave the situation alone for nine years, hoping it'll just go away. Fuck you.

Look, I understand that rape accusations are serious business. Duke lacrosse scandal, etc. Every year tons of people are wrongfully accused of rape and it can have disastrous effects on their life (and subject the accusers to all kinds of liability and problems as well). But in this scenario, we're talking about Paterno getting a clear and precise account of the rape of child from a McQueary that he trusts. And if you have that, what other followup option do you have besides contacting the police? I'm not saying you do it the minute McQueary leaves your office. Maybe you talk to the university's general counsel about it. Maybe you call Sandusky and ask for an explanation. But what could he possibly say? One of three things. "Yeah, I did. I'm sorry. I have a problem." Great, call the cops. "You know what Joe, my lawyer has advised me not to answer any questions about that." Great, call the cops. Or maybe "No way! Totally untrue!" Well, now we need some expert fact finders to get involved because we have a factual dispute. I suppose the university might be equipped to handle that fact finding task... but when rape is involved, I think law enforcement is the much better option. Call me old fashioned, I just think you've got to err on the side of caution when it comes to this kind of thing if the report you receive is clear and from a trustworthy source.

Possibility #2: McQueary was crystal clear about what he saw, but Paterno didn't understand what McQueary meant. He either couldn't comprehend it or chose to believe it wasn't true because the Sandusky Paterno knew was a class act who would never do something so unspeakable. Thus Paterno responded by telling the administrators that apparently McQueary saw something weird happening but it was probably just a misunderstanding and then doing nothing more.

Conclusion: Fucking fire his ass. If you're too old and senile to understand when someone uses unambiguous language to describe a rape, you shouldn't be in charge of a college football program. If you someone uses unambiguous language to report a rape but your relationship with the alleged rapist prevents you from believing that the reporter is telling the truth, you shouldn't be in charge of a college football program. You're beyond help in this scenario. There's no better way to put it; you simply do not possess the mental abilities needed to preside over a large and powerful institution. If you're a local hero like Paterno is, you should be placed in some kind of a figurehead honorary position where your stupidity is less likely to cause horrible damage to people and society.

Possibility #3: McQueary actually wasn't clear at all. Fearing backlash from Sandusky, fearing that he wouldn't be believed, or perhaps being so traumatized by the incident that he didn't want to believe he saw an actual rape, he chose to use ambiguous language in his conversation with Paterno. He said Sandusky and the kid "were messing around" or some shit like that. Paterno heard this, understood what McQueary said, took him at his word, reported it up the chain, and then left it alone.

Conclusion: Fucking fire his ass. This is most of the same logic from #1, just taken a step back to account for the possibility that McQueary didn't present all the relevant information up front. And if that happened, obviously it's Paterno's duty to ask some fucking questions and try to get that information. There's no way that an old man and a child were doing anything that fits under the umbrella description of "messing around" in a shower but that there was nothing at all wrong with it. So ask the questions and get the answers. And if McQueary won't give them to you, get a serious investigation rolling. Contact Sandusky. (That should be done in situation #1, too.) Contact the Second Mile. Ask the university to launch an internal investigation. Do something to gather the facts. Don't just stick your head in the sand and hope it all works out.

Yeah, so there you go. I dunno. There are a lot of other ways to look at the Paterno firing but I feel like this is the simplest. When McQueary came to Paterno and the end result was a few conversations about the issue behind closed doors and an unenforceable decree that Sandusky couldn't come to campus any more... it doesn't really matter how the Paterno/McQueary conversation went. Joe sealed his fate right there in my eyes. Feel free to leave thoughts in the comments (unless you're some fuckass moron named Anonymous), or just stare at the wall for a minute and ponder how fucked up humans and life are.


Chris W said...

I'm not saying this because I disagree with your premise, but it seems odd--given the methodical nature of your scenario-devising--that you left out possibility #4, being a combination of #2 and #3.

To wit, McQueary comes to Paterno with vague terminology about impropriety AND Paterno doesn't understand the severity of it OR is loath to believe that Sandusky could be guilty of this vague impropriety.

Honestly, to me, this seems like the most likely scenario, given the circumstances surrounding the case (i.e. Paterno's stature, age, and public persona vis a vis McQueary's hypotehtical relucatnce to be explicit about child rape as well as the best case scenario for Paterno report to admin, i.e. "I've got this McQueary saying some weird stuff about Sandusky, I'm not sure what, you might want to check it out.")

That said, as I said above, I agree with your premise that even this scenario warranted Paterno's dismissal. It showed a lack of oversight and thunderously bad judgment regarding ANY sort of impropriety with children. Further, your points about donors and PR are as valid here as otherwise.

I'm willing to give Paterno a certain benefit of the doubt until facts otherwise come to light that this misstep was merely a grievous error in judgment and comprehension. That still makes it a grievous error, though, and firing is completely warranted as far as I see it.

Chris W said...

Also, and more importantly: The football score as baseball score joke bit is one of the best in the business. To hell with you, Larry

Larry B said...

To hell with that bit and to hell with you. I should have included that fourth possibility, but like you said, the analysis is identical to #2. He's a doddering old man who needed to be put out to pasture anyways. If I had to place money of one of the four possibilities, though, I think #1 is most likely.

Chris W said...

What if some day the Giants are playing the Vikings and there is a baseball score and the announcer says, "The Newark Bears are beating the St. Paul Saints..."

Come on, at that point you'd have to roll on the floor a little bit. Because that would be the platonic ideal of a hilarious joke

Mouth-breathing PSU fan said...

I'm pretty sure it's "err on the side of caution"

Anonymous said...

Well said, all of the above. (Even the Al Michaels joke.)

I'm not entirely upset with McQueary - after all, he'd spent 11+ years involved with Penn State as a recruit, student, alum and coach at that point. He went to Paterno (eventually) and in that system, that might have been the right first step. All that written, had he come out right away, he would be able to get another job at a college in his lifetime. Now, no chance at that.

Anonymous said...

Clarifying my point on the above:

But, yeah, McQueary should have acted immediately with Sandusky first ... then go about the phoning dad and deciding how to act in reporting it. If he decides not to call the police right that second, I can understand that these guys (Sandusky, Paterno, etc.) are also like parents to McQueary in the "second family" sense. But he had to do Something.

Larry B said...

Mouth Breather up there has a point. I am an idiot.

Also, I would accept Michaels's joke if he said "Wow, it's like a game between the Celtics and Knicks has broken out, but we're only two minutes into the first quarter! Ray Allen hit a three and Paul Pierce completed a three point play after being fouled while making a leaner, while Amare Stoudemire has a breakaway dunk!"

Chris W said...

God Larry, stfu

Adam said...

Even if you're one of those idiots who thinks that Paterno did nothing wrong, he still should have been canned.

When something that terrible happens on your watch, and you weren't instrumental in rooting it out; you're going to be fired. That's just the way it is.