Penn State Scandal: Enough Dirty Hands to Go Around

November 27, 2011

Political Theory

If you asked Penn State students how the last few weeks have been, I would imagine no two answers would be the same. While some would go on a scolding rant about how unfair it was for head football coach Joe Paterno to be fired, others might find optimism, “well at least we beat Ohio State.” However, I was shocked to find a lack of respect for the acts that took place within the football facilities.


Jerry Sandusky, the once heir-in-apparent to Joe Paterno, Defensive Coordinator, and proclaimed “professor of Linebacker U,” (As Penn State is known for its ability to develop linebackers to elite levels) was arrested on November 5th and charged with a laundry list of charges including seven counts of “involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and eight counts of both corruption of minors and endangering the welfare of a child.  The grand jury report stated that coach Paterno was made aware of the allegations when they occurred yet did not alert authorities. Thus, the University’s Board of Trustee’s fired him on November 9th. As the Penn State community dealt with the earth-shattering allegations and subsequent dismissal of Paterno, many students took their anger to the streets in protest of in the firing. As the World Wide Leader  (ESPN’s self-proclaimed nickname) always is, camera crews and reporters were on the streets interviewing scores of raucous and irrational students.  However, in the hours upon hours of non-stop coverage, one student did Penn State proud. The video, shows the intelligent student stating his disappointment in the student body for worrying more about JoePa, than the victims of the crimes. He says, “It’s a terrible situation but he [Joe Paterno] could have down more. ” and “It [the feeling] is not common. I am in the strong minority. Look at what we are surrounded by; it’s disgusting…I am embarrassed for the University. ” Of course, this wouldn’t be a YouTube sensation if it weren’t for the inebriated, and idiotic student who interrupts the interview at: 0:38.


When it comes to the course content we have been studying, I think this situation best relates to the dirty hands. When altered that child molestation was taking place in his locker room by one of his coaches, Joe Paterno SHOULD have altered authorities and followed up to make sure it wasn’t taken lightly. However, as we know now, he did not do that. Why? Well for this question we can apply it to the theory of dirty hands. As we read in Martin Hollis’ Dirty Hands, The chain of command in government, military, and organizations ( In this case the football team and athletic department) are perfect examples of how morality is controlled and forced by a certain set of rules or institutional beliefs. Paterno’s hands are considered “dirty” because he didn’t follow through with “higher-ups” not only to protect his friend and colleague, but also to save his program (which he has coached for over 40 years) from embarrassment and the possible ramifications of a criminal investigation.  While it is clear that Paterno’s hands are “dirty,” the University’s hands are also dirty. The cover-up of crime was done not only to save Sandusky, but also to save the University from the financial and reputation diminution. Consequently, when the University fired Joe Paterno it was not only because his morality had failed him, but also to improve how the public viewed the integrity of the University. On page 387, Hollis says, “the new allegiances, prompted by fear, were tactical and no government cares to rule through a reputation for savagery and dishonour.” In this situation, the Board of Trustees fired Joe Paterno to avoid the university’s reputation being one of “savagery and dishonour.”


My question is what does the rioting say about the students at Penn State? What does it say about society that more articles were written about Joe Paterno’s firing than about the crimes Jerry Sandusky allegedly committed? What does it say about the university and its institutional morality that they fired Joe Paterno partially to repair the holistic image of the school? In a school where their biggest fundraiser is FTK, or For The Kids, I have to ask. What about the kids?



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8 Comments on “Penn State Scandal: Enough Dirty Hands to Go Around”

  1. ianbaker2041 Says:

    First of all, the record needs to be set straight here. I am not exonerating JoePa from blame or saying that he should not have alerted authorities; however, he did not break the law, and you’re making it sound like he did. Legally, he was required to report it to his boss; JoePa did this. The university fired him more to save face on the issue than because of JoePa’s actions surrounding the situation. It seems plausible to believe that the only way he could have saved his job was to tell the police, but what were the chances of anyone finding out to begin with? The reality is that bad things go unnoticed very frequently; even in my limited experience with bureaucracy, I’ve known about things that probably should have surfaced but never did. JoePa didn’t want to create waves, so he did what was absolutely necessary. It’s easy to fault him and say “oh, he did the wrong thing; he should have told the cops,” but until you are in a situation like this, it’s pretty much impossible to say what you would do. When your job, your reputation, and your friend’s job are on the line, many people who are currently yelling at JoePa and saying he did the wrong thing would probably do exactly what he did: the bare minimum.

    That’s all beside the point. As for the Penn State community, I think that they should be outraged first with Sandusky and then with the board. JoePa, who was really a third party to all of this, should be scrutinized last. The facts surrounding the case are hazy at best, and it probably won’t all come to light until after the trial is done. It’s too early to throw around accusations about how much fault JoePa should take because frankly, no one-not even the university-knows all the facts. I think that board’s decision not to accept JoePa’s resignation after this football season and to go ahead and fire him failed to take into account all of the unknown variables at play here. I’m not saying that JoePa should definitely have kept his job; I’m just saying that I don’t think he should have definitely lost it, especially at such an early point in the situation. As for Sandusky, I think outrage at his actions is fully justified. Football is a huge part of the culture at Big 10 schools, and when these kind of things happen, it reflects poorly on the institution as a whole. Penn State always flaunted its perfect record of no NCAA violations to potential recruits; that facade is destroyed forever. People are associating the school and the football program with something immoral and bad, and the students have a right to be angry about that.

  2. jonkeren Says:

    Joe Paterno was one of the most praised coaches of all time until this horrific incident occurred. He ruined his legacy and destroyed his reputation forever. I agree with you that what JoePa did was moral wrong and that he was forced to “dirty his hands.” Additionally, you raise great questions that are very difficult to answer. To answer the first question you raised; in my opinion the student riots were just students expressing their frustration over the whole event. Football is very important to Penn State as has been for many years. Furthermore, Joe Paterno had coached the Nittany Lions for over forty years and was literally worshipped by Penn State students, faculty, and alumni. When the students found out that JoePa was fired ( over the phone), they were devastated and expressed this devastation by rioting through the streets.
    The fact that the media and newspapers payed more attention to the firing of Joe Paterno than the sexual assault on the young boys is disgraceful. This shows that Americans care more about the gossip over “what will happen next to Joe Paterno” than how these innocent little boys have been traumatized for life because of Jerry Sandusky. I don’t blame the media or the Newspaper industries for this, I blame society. The media covers news and the Newspaper prints stories based on what the people are most interested are in. Since the firing of Joe Paterno and the rioting of the Penn State students were covered all over the news from television stories to newspaper articles, it is pretty clear that that was what society wanted.
    The fact that the University fired Paterno to repair its image just shows that it handled the situation very poorly. I was shocked when I found out that they fired Paterno at very critical point in Penn States football season. I was even more baffled that the University completely rejected Paterno’s resignation for the end of the season and instead fired him a few days later over the phone. Its hard to believe that JoePa knew what was going on with Sandusky and that nobody in the executive board did. I personally believe that the board of directors at Penn State fired Paterno to save themselves. Overall this was one of the biggest College scandals in over a century and I am devastated that this occurred. This scandal has not only tarnished Paterno’s reputation, but the entire Universities as a whole. Parents are now going to think twice before they send their students to Penn State.

  3. mzselig Says:

    In a situation such as the Penn State scandal, no one is going to get away scot-free. This massive explosion of allegations and media coverage will and has already begun to tear down one of the most storied college football programs of all time and will continue to do so because, in my opinion, it is necessary in order to attempt to cleanse the university and its program of these horrific allegations lodged against Jerry Sandusky.
    When reading the grand jury report on the Penn State scandal, I must admit I was truly appalled. The kinds of allegations that were presented by the report and the magnitude at which they occurred was mind-blowing to me. That being said, Joe Paterno, while being one of, if not the best college football coaches of all time, does not simply get to be exonerated from this whole event simply because he is a good coach and is seen as an icon in American sports. The simple facts are JoePa was at the helm of the Penn State football program while these alleged crimes were taking place and, as stated in more findings released by police and the grand jury, was made aware of said crimes and did nothing to stop them. In my opinion, the regents and trustees of Penn State made the right decision in relieving him of his position as Head Coach of Penn State.
    The fact that more articles were written about the firing of this man as opposed to the children whose lives have been torn apart by the alleged crimes Jerry Sandusky perpetrated says volumes about us as a society in that we apparently care more about what we want to see, JoePa as the incredible older gentleman who has an immaculate record as a head coach, and less about what tarnishes that vision, the Sandusky scandal that has torn that image down. The more repulsive statement about us as a society was the reaction by Penn State students and their rioting after the firing of Paterno as head coach. Simply flying off the handle because something occurs you do not like is not the correct or humane way to go about things, especially when it involves the burning of cars and injuring of law enforcement officers.
    All in all, this scandal is the culmination of the many scandals that have come before it and has spoken volumes about the state of sports in America. This scandal, the Ohio State scandal, and the performance enhancing drug scandal before them all shows that we, as humans, do not know the meaning of control when we get to the top of our worlds and the fans do not know how to handle the tarnishing of people we view as idols. We care less about the well-being of other human beings than we do about the image, respectability, and success of our favorite teams, which to me implies we have hit very close to rock bottom in terms of morality as a society.

  4. phillipschermer Says:

    While I agree with most of what has been said before me about the appalling nature of the crimes committed in “Happy Valley” I do think that there has been one person who has been vilified who probably does not deserve the criticism that he has been receiving: Mike McQueary. While it is unclear whether McQueary stopped the abuse when he walked in on Sandusky, it was McQueary who was the first whistleblower. It was McQueary who told his boss, the most powerful man in Happy Valley, about what he had seen. Many people have criticized McQueary’s decision to immediately call his dad. Why? My guess is that 99% of people would react the same way to walking in on such a horrific scene. It wasn’t like he told his parents then kept the secret to himself. He told the most powerful man on campus. He reported it. End of story.

  5. Obada Ghabra Says:

    I do not think that the Penn State scandal is a case of Dirty Hands. In order for one to dirty his hands, do something wrong in order to accomplish right. Jerry Sandusky and those around him in Penn State were not accomplishing anything beneficial with their actions. Sandusky’s actions had only harm, and no benefit. The people at Penn State who concealed his actions and did not report Sandusky also acted in a way which only harmed people. Hiding Sandusky’s actions benefited no one, and only added to the horrific events that took place at Penn State.

    • Obada Ghabra Says:

      Correction of typo: I do not think that the Penn State scandal is a case of Dirty Hands. In order for one to dirty his hands, he must do something wrong in order to accomplish something that is right. Jerry Sandusky and those around him in Penn State were not accomplishing anything beneficial with their actions. Sandusky’s actions had only harm, and no benefit. The people at Penn State who concealed his actions and did not report Sandusky also acted in a way which only harmed people. Hiding Sandusky’s actions benefited no one, and only added to the horrific events that took place at Penn State.

  6. jrsmyth177 Says:

    Joe Pa reported this to his boss! ESPN has ruined Joe Pa. ESPN criticized him so much that Penn State was basically forced to fire Joe Pa, but what about the men above Joe Pa that also knew about the scandal. I am not backing up Joe Pa, but rather I am criticizing Penn State. Joe Pa reported this to his boss, who also did nothing. Why is Joe Pa getting all the blame and not his boss? I think the University handled this terribly. They could have told Joe Pa to retire at the end of the season. Instead they attempted to defend their own jobs. I am almost confident that they knew what was going on. They knew that their positions were on the line too. I just think they could have done something better for the man who MADE Penn State football. Many people would say, “What about the kids?” Yes I know it is terrible and I agree that the kids are more important than football. At the same time Joe Pa has done so much for that University, and for that University to just get rid of him that fast was disrespectful for all the work he has done. The man did not break the law. He did what he was supposed to do, report it to his boss. Why couldn’t his boss report it to the police? Again I am not saying that Joe Pa is more important than the kids, but come on that guy is an amazing guy who did so much for that University.

    As for the riots, I don’t think, as another University with a storied football program, we can assume that they are immoral because we probably would do the same thing. Let us say that Bo Schembechler never retired. Right now he would be 82, and probably would have just as many wins as Joe Pa, if not more. What if this happened at Michigan? Would we riot? I think if this happened at any other University, the majority of students would also protest.

    I have to disagree with the last comment. This scandal did have dirty hands, but Joe Pa does not have the dirty hands. The Penn State executives have the dirty hands. After Joe Pa reported the problem to them, they did nothing to preserve the reputation of the University and the football program. They knew that once people found out about this that the perception of the University would be hurt. Also the football program would suffer because they probably knew that they would have had to fire some of the coaches.


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