Nov 08

Sandusky, Paterno and Poz

Joe Posnanski is in Happy Valley, and has been for a few months. He is there to write a book about Joe Paterno. Penn State football, as you have probably heard, is in the news for reasons other than their upcoming matchup against Nebraska.

The Jerry Sandusky story is disgusting in innumerable ways. But as I catch up on news from the weekend, I see that Joe Paterno knew about at least one of Sandusky’s victims. He could have called the police, and he didn’t.

For more about that particular angle, I liked Drew Magary’s post. Read the whole thing if you can, but if not, this is good:

I think the reason Paterno went to his AD and didn’t go to the cops is because it provided him with the chance to have it both ways. This way, he was able to “report” it, without having to be the person who takes the significantly braver step of actually calling the police. Problem solved. Conscience cleared.

The extent of Paterno’s guilt-by-association is an angle that can – and should – be explored much more as weeks progress. People have already started talking about how this means the end of Paterno’s coaching career.

But the angle that keeps needling at me is, what will Posnanski do? He’s up in Happy Valley, writing a book about JoePa. So what should he do about this storyline, which was obviously not part of his pitch to the publisher?

A few possibilities:
– Do nothing. Posnanski could write the book as planned, which is probably some kind of glowing biography of Paterno. After all, his career has amounted to much more than the (VERY) bad actions of one of his coaches. This would be a disappointing course of action.

– Write the book as planned, but with an addendum: This could be tricky, because it would literally marginalize the suffering of Sandusky’s victims. What would be the best way to write honestly about Paterno’s role*  in the coverup without letting it dominate whatever good things are written about him in the main part of the book? Is there any adequate way to do that?

*Yes, knowing about abuse and failing to report it is a role. A big one.

– Weave this story into the book. This would be an even trickier option, because odds are good that the story will still be unfolding in many ways when the book’s publication date nears. However, it will end up being the most honest way forward, given that it seems likely that Paterno will have to resign after this. The thing that ends an extraordinarily long career is a part of the story you can’t leave out.

– Scrap the book. Unlikely, and also kind of cowardly. A good writer does not run from a story when it turns out differently than anticipated. And Posnanski is not merely a “good” writer. But he is nice, and does not often write hurtful things about other people, even when you could argue that he ought to. And, this is not what this book was supposed to be.

I don’t know. I have tried hard to not ascribe too much personal greatness to my “heroes” of various professions, whether that be in writing, sports, or anything else. Expecting people to be great humans generally leads to bitter disappointments, like the time I was 14 and my favorite pitcher rudely refused to sign an autograph for me. People are people, and as such, they often suck. EXCEPT…Posnanski is not just my favorite writer. He’s the reason I write about sports, he was my boss for a while, he put my name in a NYT best seller, and he once took my parents and me out for a two-hour lunch when a five-minute meetup would have sufficed (I had to drop off some book-related research). He once took the time to calm my nerves via text when I was panicking over a reporting assignment for which my life had not prepared me at all.* I can look up to Poz as a person because I know him to be a good one.

*I was sent to cover a tennis tournament. Tennis!

The last assignment I ever had to write in college – EVER – was to pick a writer of any genre, and write something of his genre in his voice. It took me a nanosecond to choose Poz. Posnanski is a great writer. And I’m pretty sure he’s a good person. What he does with this book will say a lot more about the latter than it does the former.

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  1. Gene Thomas Gomulka

    While serving as the Marine Forces Pacific Chaplain based on Oahu from 1999 to 2002, I was told by a Navy Chaplain that a Catholic Chaplain whom I recruited years earlier was cohabitating with a male sailor in Honolulu. The alleged cohabitating Catholic chaplain was not serving with Marines, and was not one of the some 150 chaplains that I supervised. However, because he was a priest of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, U.S.A., I reported the matter in a letter dated May 6, 2002 to the Military Archbishop in Washington, D.C.

    I did not take any further action in this regard. The priest/chaplain in question did not work for me just as Jerry Sandusky did not work for Joe Paterno who was told that Sandusky appeared to be sexually involved with a boy in a locker room shower in 2002. Might the alleged cohabitating priest merely been offering a sailor a place to stay before he was able to secure more permanent quarters? Might the incident in the shower been inappropriate “horseplay” that was not a more serious long-term problem? I believed it was within the purview of the Military Archbishop to determine the seriousness of the allegations. I tend to think that Joe Paterno trusted that Tim Curley would likewise have investigated the allegations and taken appropriate action.

    In 2007, five years after I reported the matter involving the alleged cohabitation, the priest in question was arrested and charged with aggravated assault, indecent assault, fraternization, forcible and consensual sodomy, and conduct unbecoming an officer. Just as Tim Curley and Gary Schultz are accused of failing to take appropriate action involving alleged sexual abuse on the part of Jerry Sandusky, so too I believe the former Military Archbishop failed to investigate and take action in the case of the priest who was later convicted of engaging in sex with young Naval Academy midshipmen and Marines while he knowingly was HIV positive.

    In 1985, Father Tom Doyle, while working at the Vatican Embassy, wrote a report that was sent to the Vatican about a very serious sexual abuse problem involving priests and mainly teenaged boys. We all know now that the Vatican did not take appropriate action and thousands of young people continued to be abused. When the matter was exposed by the Boston Globe in 2002, the same year I wrote the Military Archbishop and the same year Joe Paterno reported alleged abuse to Tim Curley, should Tom Doyle have been accused of not taking appropriate action? Should he be defrocked because he trusted that the Vatican would handle the matter in a just manner?

    Because I was not in any position to tell the Military Archbishop in 2002 how to do his job and investigate the matter I brought to his attention; and because Tom Doyle was in no position to tell the Pope or Vatican Officials like Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger how to handle the growing abuse problem he documented in his report; it is my opinion that it is unfair to argue that Joe Paterno should have done far more in 2002 than report the Sandusky matter to Tim Curley whom he had no reason to believe would not take appropriate action.

    1. Minda Haas

      I’m all for giving people the largest possible benefit of the doubt, Gene. But in your situation, the chaplain was cohabitating with someone old enough to have joined the Navy. That’s two consenting adults making a bad decision. Jerry Sandusky was with a CHILD. In a shower. There is never ever ever ever EVER EVER an appropriate moment for a grown man to be in the shower with a child who has been placed in his care like that. There’s no type of “horseplay,” as you say, that could explain away what that grad assistant saw, and what Paterno failed to report.

      Again, because this can’t be emphasized enough: The grad assistant saw a CRIME in progress. Paterno knew about it, and failed to report it.

      Thank you for contributing. It’s abhorrent that Jerry Sandusky was permitted by so many people to continue abusing boys for so long, but talking about the appropriate course of action will help people who find themselves in Paterno’s predicament. Sometimes, people need a push to do the right thing. Everyone talking online about what that right thing is – and why sometimes it’s really hard to do – is a good thing.

  2. Will

    There is no way Poz can write the book he was planning with just an addendum. We all know Poz’s style. This was going to be an over-the-top, purple, “Soul of Baseball” type love poem to JoePa, etc.

    The events of the last week should make us all take a step back from using sports to supposedly teach us anything about anything.

  3. Dean

    So where is the outrage over the destruction of records of 1 or 2 Planned Parenthoods in Kansas, records critical to the determination of whether there was failure to report as rape underage girls seeking abortions?

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