The Unseemly, Sickening Endgame for Paterno and Penn State

This evening brought a report from Fox-Philly that the victims in Gerald Arthur Sandusky's alleged wretched spree have more than doubled based on tips received by investigators since state attorney general Linda Kelly went public with the case on Monday. A 40-count grand jury presentment provides the sickening details of sexual abuse-related crimes committed against eight boys, ages ranging 10-15, who went to the "Second Mile" charity for guidance, warmth and love, only to get ruin in return.

Scipio Tex boiled Penn State's actions down to their irreducible minimum here, and he's spot on. Nothing to add on that score, except this: This story ought to be all about finding and helping those kids, now young men, who suffer in innumerable ways. But it won't be. The media meme will be about the pursuit of justice, which in cases like this is neither clean nor swift, and often yields impure results. It will be about the downfall of a legend. It will be about the toll on a revered institution. And it will feature a classic game of Nixonian gotcha: What did these assholes know and when did they know it? [My money is on 1998, which may prove to be the real reason that Sandusky retired early after the 1999 season.]

The machinery is already in motion.

To those who clamor for an immediate public audience with Joe Paterno and PSU president Graham Spanier for a redress of grievances, save your breath. The lawyers are running this show now. Within the last hour, the Board of Trustees released a statement promising speedy and "decisive" action in the form of a special investigative committee to be formed on Friday with unlimited authority to ferret out the unpleasant truth. Rule of thumb: special investigative committees generally move with the alacrity of a garden snail. This is an effort to buy a little bit of time in the name of due process, made necessary by some of the worst crisis management in modern American history. How in the world could Penn State get caught this flat-footed when they had a half a dozen administrators subpoenaed by the grand jury? Are we really given to believe that they didn't get any kind of a constructive heads-up from that process, or were they just too busy refining their story to consider the possibility that the panel wouldn't buy it? Absolutely amazing.

Of course, the inevitable focus of the story is now Paterno. What will become of JoePa? By that I do NOT mean, what will become of JoPa the coach. I mean what will become of JoPa the witness. See, Penn State is looking down the barrel at civil litigation with a 9-figure price tag. The statute of limitations in Pennsylvania for civil litigants to pursue claims arising out of child or sexual abuse is 12 years after the victim's 18th birthday. And although Penn State is a Commonwealth institution, its sovereign immunity can be pierced if the plaintiffs can prove commission of an intentional tort or crime. That would open the door to punitive damages.

As the NYT reported this afternoon, Paterno is finished coaching football at Penn State. The story says it's just a question of days or weeks, and I suppose in the long run it may not matter as long as he's not back in 2012 (which appears to be a foregone conclusion). The main worry for Penn State as far as Paterno is concerned is keeping him hitched to the company wagon. At the same time, Paterno's first concern is probably his legacy. See the inevitable tension there?

Morally, one can make the argument that Penn State can't allow Paterno to coach another game. Legally, one can also make an argument that it would be worse for PSU to allow Paterno to have an untethered press conference where he stakes out a position that's inconsistent with the PSU line of defense. Paterno's next presser (if he ever has another one after the surreal episode tonight) will be a dress rehearsal for his first deposition.

Ironically, Paterno kept coaching because he didn't know what the hell he'd do with himself if he ever retired. Now he knows.

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