Penn State Students Riot on Behalf of Morally Disgraced Coach

A number of students at Penn State have rioted over the firing of legendary football coach, Joe Paterno. I am very disappointed in their behavior. From the grand jury report alone without any other media report, it is obvious that Paterno breached his moral duty by not reporting a cruel act of pedophilia and allowing the culprit to go free and possibly continue his criminal career for nine more years. Apparently some are arguing that since Paterno told his superiors, he had fulfilled his duty!

There was never any doubt in my mind that he and the college president had to be removed. The issues here are not grey, they are not indistinct; we are looking at a clear issue of right and wrong. These rioting Penn State students are making a statement here, that they do not understand the basic responsibilities of a citizen in our society.

From the New York Times

After top Penn State officials announced that they had fired Joe Paterno on Wednesday night, thousands of students stormed the downtown area to display their anger and frustration, chanting the former coach’s name, tearing down light poles and overturning a television news van parked along College Avenue.

Now, let’s hear at least one person’s argument on behalf of the fired coach –

Again, from the New York Times story

“I think the point people are trying to make is the media is responsible for JoePa going down,” said a freshman, Mike Clark, 18, adding that he believed that Mr. Paterno had met his legal and moral responsibilities by telling university authorities about an accusation that Mr. Sandusky assaulted a boy in a university shower in 2002.

Run this phrase from the paragraph above across your mind – “met his legal and moral responsibilities” Say it out loud and see if there is any way you can mean it.

There are those who believe when they have met the very least of their legal responsibilities, their moral duties are also fulfilled. I do not hold to that. My perception is that our moral responsibilities only begin there at the moral minimum of obedience to the law. We have duties to our fellow citizens and our nation. You could add duties to religion and civilization with no argument on my part.

I teach law enforcement courses. One of the principles of American law enforcement is public support. With the public’s active participation, law enforcement is not possible. The police do not cover enough ground that they can know about any worthwhile percentage of crime. So, the bedrock of American law enforcement is the willingness of citizens to provide information and sometime testify in criminal matters. Without that cooperation, we descend into chaos.

Did Joe Paterno violate the law? Here is the relevant portion of Pennsylvania statute in question –

§ 42.42. Suspected child abuse—mandated reporting requirements.

 (a)  General rule. Under 23 Pa.C.S. §  6311 (relating to persons required to report suspected child abuse), licensees who, in the course of the employment, occupation or practice of their profession, come into contact with children shall report or cause a report to be made to the Department of Public Welfare when they have reasonable cause to suspect on the basis of their professional or other training or experience, that a child coming before them in their professional or official capacity is a victim of child abuse.

 (b)  Staff members of public or private agencies, institutions and facilities. Licensees who are staff members of a medical or other public or private institution, school, facility or agency, and who, in the course of their employment, occupation or practice of their profession, come into contact with children shall immediately notify the person in charge of the institution, school facility or agency or the designated agent of the person in charge when they have reasonable cause to suspect on the basis of their professional or other training or experience, that a child coming before them in their professional or official capacity is a victim of child abuse. Upon notification by the licensee, the person in charge or the designated agent shall assume the responsibility and have the legal obligation to report or cause a report to be made …

Now I am definitely no expert in Pennsylvania law and there can be other statutes that may apply that I am unaware of. But based on what I have here I think it is pretty clear that under this disclosure law, Paterno fulfilled the state required minimum by reporting the incident to his superiors. Now be aware, the question as to whether or not a college football coach comes into contact with children so regularly that he has a reporting responsibility is a separate issue.

So he fulfilled his legal requirement based on a very simple layman’s interpretation of the law of the State of Pennsylvania. But did he fulfill his moral responsibility?

Let’s just make that second question as simple as possible? –

Do you call the police when you have discovered someone was anally assaulting a small boy in the locker room of your team?

If you can truthfully answer that with a “no,” I guess you have reason to riot.

James Pilant

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