Wednesday, April 16

Joe Paterno and Alfred Dreyfus - THE PENN STATE CULTURE

THE DREYFUS AFFAIR REDUX by Joseph A Cattano Ph.D Penn State  

First a reminder:  The Dreyfus Affair, a political scandal that divided France 1894 until its resolution in 1906, is one of the most striking examples of a miscarriage of justice with a major role by media and public opinion. 

note: Written a year ago edits made to bring current. 

           Before sharing my thoughts regarding the tragedy that occurred at Penn State University, I will preface my discussion with the necessary statement that children were the tragic victims of harm and a reckless insensitivity by a sexual predator that will stay with them for years.  As a mental health professional who has worked with the victims of sexual abuse, I fully appreciate the scope of emotional issues and he horrid “soul murder” of a child who has experienced sexual abuse.There is no question that those responsible for this tragedy should face both criminal and civil prosecution and be held accountable for their actions.

However, the situation at Penn State has revealed another victim, one quite different in nature but in its own right very troubling; I am referring to the total disregard for due process. Both with the NCAA sanctions and the actions of the Penn State Board of Trustees, we witnessed a blatant dismissal of one of the most sacred pillars of our free and democratic society - access to fair and reasonable judgment only thorough due process. Yes, Jerry Sandusky received his day in court and has been punished accordingly, but Joe Paterno, the alumni, the students including the football team, and those who are economically dependent upon football did not receive the same reasonable and fair due process pertaining to the consequences of serious allegations of wrongdoing by various university officials.  Without any possibility for redress of grievances or reasonable rebuttal, the actions of the NCAA and board of trustees have punished each of these and many others as well. They have tolerated those possessing a near lynch mob mentality constantly espousing spurious and hateful insults about the lack of values at their alma mater and even more absurd questions pertaining to the quality of the academic experience at Penn State. It summoned forth the sense of powerlessness and indignation I experienced upon first viewing the classic movie: “The Ox Bow Incident.”

If we look at the structure of societies and states that are ruled through a dictatorship, it becomes immediately evident that there is neither time, nor desire, nor place for reasonable and fair due process. Rather, these societies and countries are tyrannical in nature, with an individual or panel being judge, jury, and executioner. Is this so removed from what has happened at PSU with both the NCAA and the board of trustees?

At Penn State, it seemed there were two distinct polarities contending for recognition. Understandably and correctly, the first pertained to the moral responsibility of both individuals and institutions to protect the welfare of children from sexual predation. Without question, there were failures on the part of certain individuals, including administrators, child welfare workers, a district attorney, and local law enforcement officers - all of whom either could not fully grasp the true nature of that which was transpiring or were not in concert on the appropriate way to proceed.  But this is not an unusual situation when individuals, families, and even institutions are faced with this type of behavior. Psychologists and sociologists have long discussed how incredibly skillful predators are in covering up or obscuring the reality of their behavior with children. Familiarity with family members and a high level of regard within the community can be used to cleverly conceal what is actually happening and create a veil of denial on the part of those who could intervene.

It is interesting to note that the grand jury commended  Joe Paterno as the only one who did exactly what he was supposed to do by Pennsylvania law, that is to make a report to his immediate superiors, including the administrative head of the University Police.  Moreover, he had the presence of mind to direct the actual witness to the alleged assault - Mike McQueary to do the same. We should not lose sight of the fact that Joe Paterno was not a witness. He was the recipient of what is technically hearsay. Does it not open up this question: If Joe Paterno was desirous of a cover-up, why did he report it and tell McQueary to do the same? I would think that expanding the scope of those who knew surely is not consistent with the engineering of a cover-up.

But what has happened is that this noble and necessary notion of protecting the welfare of children has come into conflict with or at least has been the rationale for bypassing due process. When the story was first released, the cry for quick retribution became rampant, clouding the judgment of some good people and leading to some questionable decisions and actions motivated by a strange form of media-generated bloodthirsty hysteria. “Must have known” and “had to have known” became the transfixing rallying cries and slogans that justified proclaiming Joe Paterno “guilty” of complicity in Jerry Sandusky’s sexual crimes and, of course, all this ignored the right to due process. The printed word and airways were filled with indignant, self-righteous voices demanding immediate action, regardless of the individuals that would be drawn into this devastating and devouring media maelstrom. The media became judge, jury, and executioner, all without due process.

The basis of this media attention was a “feast” too rich to be passed up - an opportunity to ensnare new listeners, increase sales of printed matter, and boost program ratings. A media generated frenzy was created with few caring to wait for the facts to emerge before throwing the hanging rope over the limb of the nearest tree.

Of course, it does not have to be an “either/or” issue; rational and well-intended individuals are quite capable of satisfying both needs if that is their intent. Actually, protecting the welfare of children and ensuring due process can work in concert if given a chance, but it was not. Why? The answer is one word: Paterno. In fact, the media focused more upon his alleged role in the cover-up than upon the actual crimes of Jerry Sandusky, the real culprit in this American horror story. This situation became an epic of proportions that one would think the work of the ancient Greek tragedians.

But why was Paterno the focus? Simple; a scandal that focuses on Paterno sells print and piques the interest of many a radio shock jock and their audiences.  Who wants to hear about Sandusky, Spanier, Curley, or Schultz? Few, but mention Joe Paterno and the needle on the interest meter rockets over the top. Moreover, it is an accepted fact that many members of the media and certain members of the NCAA had contempt for Joe. It was an easy task to put him at the top of their respective hit list. Again, why? The answer: He was a source of embarrassment to many programs and coaches, as he demonstrated that there really was such a creature as a student-athlete and that you could field a top-notch football team and not sacrifice academics. Simply, his success was a statement about what could be if you had the desire, commitment, and courage. Couple this with Joe’s natural irascibility, stubbornness, and disdain for the press and you have a target to relish.

But what about the Freeh Report you might ask? Was that not evidence of a genuine cover-up by PSU officials, including Joe? In my opinion, the answer is NO. 

Careful analysis has revealed that this is a questionable report filled with what some feel are assumptions, innuendo, and opinions rather than facts. If one takes the time to read the 267 pages (which the vast majority of radio commentators and editorialists have neither the patience nor sense of professional responsibility to do), I believe you will be left with many questions and a sense that this report is not the source of fact that it purports to be, not by a long stretch. Skilled analysts have reviewed this report and are rather aghast at the conclusions reached, as many are not well grounded in fact. Amazingly, the Freeh report did not interview the principal figures in their fact-finding mission, Joe Paterno, Gary Schultz, Mike McQueary, Tim Curley and of course, Jerry Sandusky. It is interesting to note that Louis Freeh recently completed a report for FIFA, the governing body of the International Soccer Association, which was dismissed by a court only a few months ago because of shallowness and inaccuracies.

Furthermore, strong doubts have been raised pertaining to both the authenticity and interpretation of certain emails that have been considered suggestive of the possibility that Joe may have had knowledge of the investigation of Jerry Sandusky’s activities in 1998. In fact, these emails make reference to the “coach,” which is assumed to be referring to Joe Paterno. But anyone who is familiar with PSU knows that Joe Paterno is always referred to as “Joe,” or more affectionately as “JoePa.” No one addresses him as “coach;” even his players call him Joe.  Some who have had access to the emails have posited the notion that the individual referred to as “coach” may have been Jerry Sandusky, not Joe Paterno. Regardless, the upcoming trials in January would have provided clarification of some of these issues. Obviously, some could not wait a few more months for data that could be either damning or exculpatory.

All of this generates some questions. First: What was this rush to judgment all about? Why was it necessary to terminate the employment of Joe Paterno as he neared the end of his career? What was accomplished?  Well, foremost a distraction, a powerful diversion was surely created.  By placing Joe Paterno in the spotlight, the attention was conveniently turned away from the possible culpability of the Board of Trustees, and yes the governor himself, who is a sitting PSU board member and, by the way, a governor who is up for reelection. Moreover, we have learned that prior to his election as governor of Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Corbett was the Attorney General of Pennsylvania. During his tenure as AG, complaints about Jerry Sandusky were brought to his attention, including complaints from the Centre County district attorney, Madeira. In essence, Corbett did not assign adequate manpower to investigate these complaints; accordingly, whatever was done was at best done very slowly.

There are those that feel that with the assignment of reasonable manpower, Sandusky would have been indicted years earlier. Equally interesting, there was a rumor that Joe Paterno would not lend his support to the Corbett campaign for governor. But Jerry Sandusky’s Second Mile organization did support his campaign by donating $664,000 to his election coffers, money, I assume, that could have been better spent on enhanced services to the youths the program was designed to service. And the Second Mile program was a recipient of a multi-million dollar grant from Governor Corbett. Hmmmm, the good old quid pro quo.  Might it be that the real cover-up is much higher than PSU? And keep in mind that none less than the governor himself suggested Louis Freeh to the Board of Trustees and President Erickson as the man for the job of investigating the Sandusky situation.

It is also interesting to note that it was President Erickson (in 1998, he was Provost Erickson) who signed a retirement agreement with Sandusky granting him Emeritus status, thereby assuring him access to all Penn State facilities. Joe had nothing to do with this. This agreement was the handiwork of Erickson and the Board of Trustees.

So here are my thoughts on this issue. They are predicated upon what I have learned in closely following the emerging situation at Penn State. Surely, I would have to concede that these are but personal opinions; accordingly, I could be wrong in my assumptions.

I mentioned the Ox-Bow Incident relative to the lack of due process and the presumption of guilt. I will make  reference to another travesty of justice and due process, but this incident was not the product of a novelist’s fantasy but a grotesque reality - namely, The Dreyfus Affair.” In 1894, Alfred Dreyfus, a French army artillery officer, was tried and found guilty of treason by a court martial based upon false and misleading evidence. evidence that was corrupted in order to reach a predetermined, desired outcome.It was later revealed that reports on the treasonous actions of Dreyfus were total fabrications filled with outrageous insinuations and assumptions.  However, thanks in part to the efforts of Emile Zola (J’accuse) and a few relentlessly dedicated others, the truth was finally revealed and the conspiracy against Dreyfus was shown for what it really was - anti-Semitism and the corruption of due process by entrenched powers.  After spending years banished to the infamous Devil’s Island, he was found innocent and his rank restored.

The parallel with Joe Paterno is disturbing in that when initially found guilty, Dreyfus was paraded in front of a jeering public, stripped of his insignia medals, and his sword broken in half. In his disgraced and torn uniform, he was paraded through the crowd and spat upon. Are the parallels not compelling at best and frightening at worst? Think about it. Joe’s statue being removed, his placards torn down, his record from 1998 through 2011 erased, and his legacy dragged through the media to be spat upon and his name a source of disgrace. All this predicated on assumptions and “must have knowns.” J’accuse the American media of a mass hysteria. J’accuse the media of creating a man of mythical proportions, only then to destroy him. Unlike the omniscient, omnipotent creation of the media, Joe Paterno was a rather modest, generous, and brilliant football coach.  He was not a man made for all seasons. He was a man made for the football season.

If I am to accept the rantings of the media, the conclusions of the Freeh report and the actions of the board of trustees, then I must then dismiss what I believe about Joe Paterno.  What is being asked is that we accept the notion that Joe Paterno knew that children were being abused and turned his back to that reality. I am being asked to believe that everyday Joe would walk past the Lasch Building and say to himself” “Gee, I wonder who Jerry is abusing in there today?” To me, that notion is totally preposterous and completely inconsistent with the man’s history, the reality of who he was, of all he stood for in the best and worst of times. Moreover, from a practical point of view, Joe and the other administrators involved were all upstanding and very bright men who had to recognize that any cover-up of Jerry’s predation would eventually be revealed, as it almost always is - and the consequences of the cover-up would far transcend any revelation and prosecution of Jerry Sandusky. It just does not make sense. If later evidence proves these thoughts to be wrong, then shame on them and shame on me for believing. But at least, their culpability would be established through due process, not hysteria.  Last, if administrators at PSU are charged with being guilty of a cover-up, let it be resolved in a venue appropriate to that task - the courtroom. 

Tim Curley, Gary Schultz and now Graham Spanier are set to go on trial for alleged perjury charges stemming from the Grand Jury report. Jerry Sandusky has already had his day in criminal court and now appears will spend the rest of his life in jail. Justice is being served and in the proper manner, through the due process of criminal investigation, trial and verdict. Any punishment should be the result of a trial by jury and a decision by an officer of the court. But there is neither place nor reason for the NCAA to have entered into this situation as their sphere of influence is with the quality and integrity of athletic competition among member institutions.They have wandered far out of their realm and have punished alumni, students, fans, football players, and the economic well-being of individuals and business owners in a large portion of Central Pennsylvania, all of whom are totally innocent in this situation.  It is rather ironic to note that he NCAA chastised Penn State for permitting the culture of football to become more important than academics. What? Are they joking? Is the NCAA suffering from delusions?  For the past four decades, Penn State has been the absolute model for the student-athlete, with graduation rates for football players annually among the highest in the country and often the highest. The graduation rate for African-American athletes surpasses almost all other institutions. Penn State is noted for producing academic all-Americans at an unprecedented rate; yet, the NCAA warns them about the culture of football, a culture largely created by the NCAA itself, as it has negotiated massive financial contracts with the media for bowl games, play-offs, etc.

J’accuse the NCAA of blatant hypocrisy of pointing a critical figure at Penn State when that finger should be pointed at themselves.

J’accuse our alumni association and those alumni who have sat on the sidelines and not demanded a full and complete revelation of those circumstances that have passively been accepted as fact. Is there something wrong with knowing the truth? It seems that there is. 

Joseph A. Cattano, Ph.D., PSU 1971


  1. I gave this piece high praise when I read it a year ago, and it is still one of the most reasoned, intelligent articles about the victimization of Joe Paterno that I have ever seen. This is a must read for anyone who cares about due process.

  2. an article by a man of intelligence-FINALLY!

  3. Thank you, Barry, for posting this. Somehow I missed it previously.

    Dr Cattano beautifully lays out the circumstances through which Jerry Sandusky's crimes became the Penn State Scandal. Those of us who value truth, sincerity, and doing right by others can only hope that someday justice will prevail in this case.

    Many thanks to Dr Cattano, all the contributors here, and John Zeigler for your seemingly tireless efforts to make a difference on behalf of truth.