Thursday, November 10, 2011

Joe Paterno – Legal vs. Moral Responsibility

They fired Joe Paterno last night. Not just him but the President of Penn State University as well but the firing of Joe Pa, the winningest coach in College Football history, is the one that is enerating all the controversy.
Joe’s defenders, and there are many, argue that he satisfied his legal responsibility by reporting the abuse committed by a former assistant as soon as he learned of it.
And they are probably right. He did what was required by law and then moved on.

But still he got fired.
You can argue, and I won’t disagree, that the trustees were operating from a need to protect the reputation of the University from bad publicity. You can hear that in their statement. Firing Joe Pa was good for the University because keeping him on would have let to lots of bad publicity.
What I didn’t hear from the Trustees or from Joe Pa or from anyone else I have seen quoted is a sense of shame on their part that they didn’t do more sooner. They might have expressed some remorse in hindsight that they didn’t do more but even the apology doesn’t seem to reflect any sense of shame at letting this occur and not reacting strongly.

The young man who saw a former coach abusing a boy in the shower did what he was required to do. He reported it to his superior, Joe Paterno. He didn’t walk into the shower and stop the
abuse. He didn’t call the cops. He didn’t try to protect the boy who was, at that moment, being abused right in front of him.
Did he fulfill his legal responsibility? Probably.
Did he in any way meet what has to be thought of as a moral responsibility? Not even close.
Did Joe Paterno, when he was told of the abuse that was at that moment happening in a facility under his control, do what he was legally required to do. Probably.
But what about his moral responsibility? There he failed completely.

And that same failure occurred time and again with everyone in the University who knew of the event.

Some of them didn’t even meet their legal responsibility. As some point somebody at the top, maybe Joe Pa, maybe his boss, but somebody, was required by law to call the police and report the crime. And they didn’t even do that.
But I think their moral failure is far greater than their legal one. These men knew that someone
with a long association with the University was abusing boys and they did nothing to stop it.
I wish I could say that I would reacted morally, and stopped the abuse if I saw it occurring. I hope I would. I think I would. But until I am actually standing somewhere seeing a some else committing an unspeakable act, until then I won’t know for sure how I will react. I know this
though. Should I fail to act, I know I will regret my moral failure.

So far I haven’t seen any hint that any of the people involved in this sordid mess feel that sense of same.

I think they should have fired the winningest coach in college football history. I just think they gave the wrong reason. And I don’t think they are learning the right lesson.

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