A Few Good Men? Paterno & Penn State’s Decision to Protect their Own Over Children

In the last week, most online newspapers and bloggers have attended more to the downfall of Penn State’s great football coach Joe Paterno than they have to the alleged child abuser Jerry Sandusky and the victims of this ugly saga. Paterno’s failure to take this serious child abuse matter higher than his immediate superior disappoints and puzzles us. What moral, ethical and psychological factors permitted Paterno to stop short from carrying what he knew about Sandusky’s alleged acts against children to the finish line?

There are several theories on this troubling coverup, but two stood out most to me. Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz entertains McCarthyism as underlying Jo Pa’s silence. First, people raised in the McCarthy era learned there’s nothing worse than being a “snitch”.  Additionally, they didn’t appreciate fully the extent and seriousness of child abuse. Given these generational issues, it may be understandable, says Dershowitz, as to why Paterno didn’t feel the need to take his reporting further than he did.

It was, thus, “unfair of Penn State’s board to fire Paterno given Jo Pa’s extraordinary contributions to the school — both on the field and off. His contributions and mistakes should have been weighed in the balance, says Dershowitz. Paterno’s serious mistake shouldn’t trump the victories of his career. He should have been permitted to retire with dignity.

Which “mistake” is too much to outweigh one’s contributions to society? Does child abuse constitute a mistake of such proportion? I think you know where I fall with regard to this question.

I believe, however, that Dershovitz was mostly speaking to the power that the “good old boy’s network” has in keeping the lid on any issue or problem that may besmirch its image and violate its code of silence.

Do you remember the movie A Few Good Men and its Code Red? Two Marines are accused of murdering Santiago, one of their colleagues who was basically a screw-up at Gitmo. Screw-ups are not tolerated at Guantanamo Bay. To make a long, great story short, a CODE RED order (euphemism for a violent extrajudicial punishment) was given to take care of PFC Santiago, the murdered victim. The commitment to preserving the  Marine unit’s image was greater than loyalty to any one of its members (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104257/).

There may be something to Dershowitz’s “snitch” idea.  It does not, however, say enough about Paterno’s failure to act fully and his incomprehensible ability to tune out Sandusky’s behavior. Penn State is not Gitmo. Also, to suggest that Paterno didn’t understand fully the seriousness of child abuse in our culture shocks me. No matter what age-cohort Paterno falls into, he is part of our culture today and understands it standards and norms.

Blogger Dylan Ratigan’s ideas about Paterno’s role in the Penn State cover up also provokes me. He calls it a “Zeus” problem, taking his ideas from Robert Bly’s book called Iron John: A Book about Men. There’s a lack of courage and integrity in today’s leaders, Ratigan contends. He blames the demise of many of our culture’s institutions on a weakening of our male leaders–our culture’s father figures who are supposed to model for us courage and integrity .

According to Ratigan, we admire men like Paterno, because they exude a strong Zeus energy. Paterno’s role in the coverup opened us to less desirable features of his ethical and moral makeup. We are disappointed, because, like so many of today’s leaders, Paterno is shown as nothing more than a ruthless businessman seeking to protect his institution at all costs, willing to sacrifice even vulnerable children and their families.  (Click here to read more on Paterno and Zeus!)

I resonate much with Ratigan’s feelings and sentiments about Penn State’s leaders protecting their interests more than the interests of children. But, are courage and integrity enough to prevent the ethical and moral failures of Penn State’s leaders?

Courage and integrity are very important, and yes, we need to put these character traits above self-interest. But, Paterno’s problem as I see it is a problem of feeling. Men and women share the same developmental task of having to grow and integrate the more innate characteristics of each other, to become whole, fully functioning human beings. Men have to learn how to feel and intuit experience, whereas women have to learn how to reason experience.

Given the way that Ratigan understands the qualities that make for good men will not be enough to rebuild men into better leaders. We need to make both men and women more whole, so that they are able to solve problems with their hearts and minds. Fully-functioning human beings are what we need to produce great leaders, with the realities that we face in the world today. If Paterno let more of his heart into his awareness, he would have empathized more with Sandusky’s alleged victims. Then, there would have been no question as to where his ethical and moral responsibilities lay–on the side of the children.

In this, we assure that we are able to act with courage and integrity when the situation calls for these character strengths. Only then, will we be able to act for the greater good of all.

If you like my post today, please say so by selecting the Like icon that immediately follows. I welcome your thoughts and comments. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. Let’s bring into our awareness this Thanksgiving a consciousness of protecting the children of this world. Warmly, Deborah.



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