The Dirty Hands of Joe Paterno

December 14, 2011

Dirty Hands


The entire world, whether affiliated with sports or not has certainly heard something in the past few months about the events that transpired in State College, Pennsylvania. Home to a football powerhouse with decades of experience on their coaching staff, the Penn State Nittany Lions football program has been in total upheaval since the leak of Jerry Sandusky’s sex abuse scandal.

Acting as assistant coach to the legendary Joe Paterno for 31 seasons, Sandusky was charged with sexually assaulting and inappropriately contacting at least eight underage boys on or near university property. Sandusky, who still maintained an office in State College, was asked to leave the premises immediately following reports. Following his trial, the Grand Jury found over 40 counts of sexual molestation by Sandusky, as his full trial will be held in the near future.

Assuming the allegations are true, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Sandusky is guilty of many felonies and is a moral failure. However, there are other members of the staff who were extremely impacted by the actions of Jerry Sandusky. Joe Paterno, a sports legend and the biggest icon of Penn State, was fired as head football coach just one day after the allegations were presented, a job that he held for the past 45 years. To the public eye, some felt it was ridiculous that Paterno was fired because he was no part in the scandal and was being punished for the actions of another man. However, it was reported that Paterno had knowledge of Sandusky’s actions years before allegations were presented and only spoke a word to it to his immediate superior, athletic director Tim Curley which made others feel that Paterno was rightfully fired. Should Paterno have gone behind one of his closest friends and colleagues back and reported Sandusky’s actions to higher authorities? Or was Paterno’s decision to keep his knowledge to himself justified by his relationship with Sandusky. As Joe Pa has learned the hard way, he was getting his hands dirty either way.

Paterno certainly had the chances to completely stop Sandusky by reporting him to the police because he was well aware of Sandusky’s illegal habits years before he was finally convicted. However, in Paterno’s eyes, he saw a man with a problem, a man who he has taught for over 30 years and felt that he would be able to step in and help Sandusky and ultimately stop him from committing wrong. Paterno felt that he reported what he found to his superior and it was up to the athletic director to determine what steps would be taken from that point. However, Paterno certainly got his hands dirty in that by protecting Sandusky, the lives of the children that Sandusky allegedly molested are ruined more than one can explain. He unintentionally allowed Sandusky to continue his child molestation. At the same time, by reporting Sandusky’s actions to the authorities, Paterno would have ruined a 30 year relationship with one of his closest colleagues as well as put the Penn State football name to shambles, as it remains presently.

This scandal, while it is made up of dozens of different themes and opinions certainly does show how Dirty Hands are such a vital part of politics. With any decision that a leader makes, there are two sides to each decision and essentially every decision made will be seen as wrong by the side that does not gain. No matter what Paterno did, he was getting his hands dirty by committing a moral wrong, whether that was between his friendship with his friend that he would have been personally responsible for sending to jail, or towards the 42 victims that were molested by Sandusky, a number that could have been much smaller had Paterno or Tim Curley reported what they knew to the authorities the moment the information was presented to them.

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6 Comments on “The Dirty Hands of Joe Paterno”

  1. William Burton Says:

    Paterno would not have been partaking in dirty hands had he reported the situation to the authorities. Dirty hands implies that he would be doing something morally wrong because he believed it would be best for his program (nation in politics). For it to be a case of dirty hands for Paterno to reveal this, doing so would have to be morally wrong, and I think most would agree, that would have been the morally right thing to do. While not wanting to send a “friend” to prison, I don’t think it’s fair to say that turning them in for a crime that they absolutely committed is a moral wrong. Doing what is morally right does not mean that everyone benefits is harmed from that decision, it means that of the choices, the decision made best fits the ideals of right and wrong. Joe Paterno made an immoral decision when he decided not to report Sandusky.

  2. mpogoda3 Says:

    Joe Paterno needed to report Sandusky, no matter how good of friends the two were. Paterno needed to realize just how serious molesting children is, but failed to do so. Sandusky ultimately ruined the football program at Penn State, and while Paterno tried to commit dirty hands for the benefit of his team, it did not work for many reasons. Firstly, Paterno was involved in dirty hands NOT for the greater good, but for selfish reasons. He valued Sandusky as an assistant coach, but never once thought about the victims who were being assaulted. While he could have rationalized his actions, they were completely wrong and now he must pay the price. I understand that the two of these men ere very close friends, but friendship should not trump morality. Sandusky’s actions were such an obvious problem that Paterno should have known the right thing to do, regardless of personal feelings. In my own personal opinion, Paterno was treated if and felt as though he was immortal and could do no wrong. He probably believed that Sandusky would never get caught because he was associated with the ‘great’ Joe Paterno.

  3. mcdonmeg Says:

    I agree with the comment made above that Paterno would not have been partaking in dirty hands if he had reported the situation to the authorities. However, I can see why Paterno thought that just telling the Athletic Directors about the situation was good enough. The Athletic Directors manage all of the coaches and the athletic department, therefore taking matters into their own hands and reporting Sandusky to the police. Even though I can understand Paterno’s reasons, I still think that he dirtied his hands by not reporting the assaults to the police. What Sandusky did was completely wrong and immoral, and therefore Paterno should of taken matters in his own hands seeing as children’s were at stake.

  4. schoiidaho Says:

    I also believe that Paterno dirtied his hands in the process of covering up Sandusky’s actions, and it would have been rightful of him to report this case of child molestation to the police when he found out about it. I can see that Paterno wanted to protect his reputation and the reputation of the school as well as maintain a good relationship with one of his best friends, but child molestation is a very serious crime. Because of his decision, over fourty children had to suffer, and now the football program and the reputation of Penn State has been utterly ruined.
    In addition, I do not understand why Paterno did not even try to get help for his best friend and instead just turned a blind eye to Sandusky’s serious problem. Also, it is stated that Paterno told the athletic director about Sandusky’s problem, and it amazes me to see that still nothing was done about it, although I am definitely sure that the athletic director was fully aware of how serious of action child molestation is.

  5. akmcoy Says:

    Honestly, not all the details about exactly what Paterno knew have even come out yet so I find this a bit harsh. Yes, he knew something weird happened once, but he has claimed he wasn’t told the extent of it. I’m not completely defending him, but give the poor guy a break. He’s already lost his job, his life, his legacy, and his reputation… Why make mass assumptions on just how much he knew? I don’t think this is a case of dirty hands because I don’t think he had an ulterior motive behind not reporting it directly to the police. From all of his accounts, he reported it to the AD and no one else because he didn’t know just how serious the issue was. On top of that, the AD is in charge of all coaches and athletic programs at the school, so I think his lack of action should be more scrutinized than Joe Paterno’s. Like I said, I’m not trying to completely excuse what Paterno did or did not do, but to say he was “protecting Sandusky” and put blame on JoePa for the victim’s hardships is a little too harsh for me. He messed up. He didn’t realize how serious it was and he didn’t realize he should take it all the way to the police. Why kick the man while he’s down?

  6. pelarkin Says:

    This was a large pickle for Joe Paterno, and I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to have been in his shoes when he first found out about the crimes that Jerry Sandusky was committing. Although all of us are able to easily say that we would have turned Sandusky in, would it really be that easy? Think about if you found out that your best friend of thirty or so years, give or take, had been partaking in these acts, what would you do? Would you be able to turn your friend in and ruin your friendship, just like that? Or would you do what Paterno did, and report it to your superiors, and hope that your best friend never finds out what you did? We can all say that we would have turned him in, but I believe that if we were all put in the same situation, we would probably all have a different answer.

    That being said, I’m not too sure if this was a case of dirty hands for Paterno, unless you consider losing your friend is a case of dirty hands. In my opinion, while something like that is bad, what’s a lot worse is losing your legend status amongst your peers, losing your job, and tarnishing the name of an otherwise great university, which is exactly what happened because Paterno chose the wrong path in this situation. Instead of doing the right thing, I think he got a little scared, and chose to tell it to his superiors, and hope that someone else would take care of the problem, or that it would just go away. Obviously, that didn’t happen, and looking back on it now, I’m sure Paterno wishes that he had made the other choice. While at first, this looks like a cases of dirty hands, when you really think it through, the right choice, while not easy, was fairly obvious.

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