Friday, January 20, 2012
The Lesson of Joe Paterno
Yesterday's New York Times has an extremely lengthy but disappointingly unilluminating article about the firing by the Penn State Board of Trustees of legendary football coach Joe Paterno (and also Penn State president Graham Spanier) for purportedly failing to take adequate action after being informed that former coach Jerry Sandusky had molested a boy in a Penn State locker room shower (discussed earlier here, here). The article reports that the Board telephoned Paterno and said, "The Board of Trustees has determined effective immediately you are no longer the football coach." Paterno immediately hung up. Shortly thereafter, his wife called the Board and said, "After 61 years he deserved better."
I agree with Mrs. Paterno. In the months since the Penn State grand jury report became public, I have seen nothing that to me indicates that Paterno acted improperly by promptly reporting the alleged incident to his superiors, even if not to law enforcement.
The lesson of Paterno's firing appears to be that, even if not required by statute or internal rule, one in authority in a corporation, government agency, institution of learning, or similar entity, should protect himself by reporting any tenable allegation of sexual abuse, whether or not substantiated and whether or not he believes it, to law enforcement. While such a rule might protect the reporter from termination, it might lead to a heyday for defamation lawyers, as well as severe harm to innocent people.