Does Joe Paterno Reflect Who Most Americans Are?

Much has been said about the Penn State incident and I have remained silent on this topic because of the plethora of views on this.  But my local newspaper, the Denton Record-Chronicle, printed an editorial on this case this last Tuesday and how it relates to the actions of people who forget what the broader and more important issue is about in this tragedy.  I re-print it here without adding or subtracting from it because it sums up everything so cogently and reflects what should hit home to all who were and still are too willing to give the great football coach at Penn State a pass on his actions related to this incident.

John Matko at Penn State game protesting child abuse inaction by Penn State administrative & athletic staff

Matko speaks truth to stupidity

We may have found one admirable figure in the tragedy that is the Penn State child rape scandal. Not surprisingly, he has been abused — verbally and physically — for his trouble.

John Matko is a 34-year-old father of a 4-year-old son. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he was shocked and angered by the news that Jerry Sandusky, a retired assistant football coach at Penn State, had been charged with eight counts of rape in the alleged sexual abuse of young boys. He was also upset that Penn State officials had apparently learned of at least one of the incidents as far back as 2002 but had not notified law enforcement officials.

So John Matko made a couple of hand-lettered signs and made the three-hour drive to State College on the morning of Penn State’s football game with Nebraska. He stood silently in the Beaver Stadium Parking lot, holding one sign, propping the other against his leg.

“Put abused kids first,” said one sign. “Don’t be fooled; they all knew. Tom Bradley, everyone must go.

Another sign read, “The kids are what this day is about, not who wins or loses or who lost their job and how! Honor the abused kids by canceling this game and season now.”

Nathan Fenno, a reporter for The Washington Times, was watching Matko in the parking lot before the game, and here are some of the things he saw:

• “‘That is such [expletive]!’ one young woman screamed at him after glancing at the signs. ‘Who the [expletive] do you think you are?’”

• “A beer showered Matko. One man slapped his stomach. Another called him a ‘[expletive].’”

•n “‘Not now, man,’ one student said, shaking his head. ‘This is about the football players.’”

•n “Abuse flew at Matko from young and old, students and alumni, men and women. No one intervened. No one spoke out against the abuse. Over the course of an hour, a lone man stopped, read the sign and said, ‘I agree.’ Those two words were swallowed by the profanity and threats by dozens of others during the hour.”

Matko never responded to the taunting, the curses, or even the physical blows, Fenno reported. He just stood quietly, moving only to retrieve one of his signs when it was kicked away or snatched from his hand.

Matko was punished, of course, not for speaking out against the sexual abuse of children, but for daring to say a discouraging word about Joe Paterno, the legendary Penn State head coach who had just been fired for not reporting an account of abuse to the police back in 2002.

To criticize Paterno in Pennsylvania is blasphemy, it seems, and Matko was duly punished for his apostasy.

Let us be clear: We have a degree of sympathy for Joe Paterno.

He is an old man in his 80s. Men’s fears can metastasize in old age, like cancer, and consume them. Paterno was apparently consumed by fear for his legacy as the builder of a legendary football program. When a young assistant coach told him of witnessing the rape of a young boy in the Penn State shower room, Paterno told his boss, but not the police.

It was a shameful sin of omission, and Paterno knows it. He has already said he wishes he had done more at the time. It is a wish he will contemplate for the rest of his life.

We have less sympathy for Mike McQueary, the young assistant coach who says he saw Sandusky raping a young boy in that shower. Not only did he not go to the police; he did not stop the attack.

He will endure his own long nights of the soul, and he will deserve them.

But we have even less sympathy, and no respect at all, for the thugs who insulted and attacked John Matko on Saturday as he stood silently and let his hand-lettered signs speak the truth.

They have sullied Penn State; they have sullied all of sport.

They have proclaimed for all to hear that nothing, not even the rape of innocent children, takes precedence over “the program.”

Happy Valley is the Vatican, and Joe Paterno is the pope, infallible and above reproach.

“Not now, man. This is about the football players.”

11 responses to “Does Joe Paterno Reflect Who Most Americans Are?

  1. We are a Penn State family who has shed so many tears since this whole thing. We love the school and we loved Paterno. Unlike everyone on the Internet, I still don’t know who did what or who didn’t do. Everyone came down on Paterno. What has been glossed over in the Grand Jury report is the fact that the Department of Children’s Welfare and the DA in 1998 refused to press charges and said the allegations were false. Also, the second mile organization and the school where many of the boys came from also did nothing and kept recommending boys even after a school administrator saw Sandusky wrestling a kid in a classroom. The two said they were practicing wrestling moves even though Sandusky was not a wrestling coach. NO REPORT TO THE POLICE OR PSU. By 2011 standards,Joe Paterno should have followed up more. But this was before all the priest scandals and the public abuse issues that have since taught us how to report allegations better. The online press and commentors who think they know everything, reamed McQueary for not doing anything, but no one said in the Grand Jury report that he didn’t try and stop the attack. They left it open in their wording. People just assumed that he did nothing and now it is being reported that HE DID STOP THE ATTACK AND WENT TO THE POLICE, but this won’t stop the lynch mob. They are already out to burn the school, fire everybody and take it out on today’s students came roaring through the internet. As it turns out, he did do something. He stopped the attack and went to the police. People think Paterno just went to a campus security guard. PSU police is a real police force. It’s bigger than my hometown’s force. Should he have followed up? Yes, but I don’t know what he did or didn’t do because he hasn’t had his say yet. I am not against firing him, or the president, but I think we need to know more.

    People have to realize that a Grand Jury report is a prosecution’s dream. They control every facet of it. Witnesses do not have lawyers present nor are they allowed to add anything more than what the prosecution asks. the old DA adage, “I can get a ham sandwich indicted” is very true. Is Sandusky a monster? yeah, I think so, and we have grieved for the victims who have to live with this ordeal. I hope if he is convicted, he gets life in prison without the possibility of parole.

    Now, for the people who want PSU burnt to the ground and shut down and whatever, let me tell you about the students there. Do you know that each year they run a year long volunteer effort where more than 20,000 of them are involved. It’s called THON and they raise MILLIONS each year for pediatric cancer. Go to and see this effort. This is the largest student philanthropic organization in the world. Because of PSU students, hundreds of families a year do not have to pay for cancer treatment for their children. They are a school steeped in the tradition of community service. Very few students leave that institution without knowing their responsibiltiy to the their communities and the world. It was a shame how the media jumped all over these students protesting assuming they didn’t want Paterno fired. In reality, the rioting by most was anger that this could have happened in their beloved school.But the media didn’t interview any of those students. They just went to the Paterno crowd and ignored the rest much like you never see an article about THON or anything else positive. Positive news does not sell or get ratings.. When the media realized what the students were protesting, they didn’t amend their story. It was easier to make people think the students didn’t care about the victims. What a bunch of shit. How many people know that in the three days since that story broke, PSU stuendts raised more than $260,000 for child abuse victims. Yeah, they are all about football right? The online hatred has been so hard to deal with. These students are being punished for something that happened when they were 8 years old or not even born yet. They had nothing to do with this. I am disgusted by the lynch mob atmosphere onl ine. we have lost our desire for due process and only want revenge from the first person we can hang. There is so much that hasn’t come out. I remember the Duke scandal and we all thought those guys were guilty; We all jumped for joy when the incompetent Italian justice system let Amanda Knox go because we thought she was railroaded, but are we no better? Have we not done the same thing?

    This guy with the sign at the stadium is no hero to me. He did what everyone else did. He read a report that is not a TRIAL transcript and assumed just like everyone else that everyone involved is guilty of something. The idea of due process is to convict and punish the criminal. I want to see who the real criminals are, and I will not bow to an internet courtroom where facts are frivolous and emotion is all that rules. That is not justice for these children who now adults, who have suffered so much. They need real justice not internet, wild west justice that hangs someone before they are allowed their day in court.

    • Donna,

      Thanks for speaking so passionately and informatively on this.

      I too am a Paterno football fan and there is no doubt that all the facts of this tragedy have yet to be revealed. My view however is that anyone, and I mean anyone, including Paterno, appear to have looked no further beyond their own careers and a sense of fraternity in what should have been addressed immediately to the police department and followed up vigorously to make sure no other children were affected by this man Sandusky.

      They didn’t and the point of my printing this is in the title. How guilty would I and others have been of acting similarly and not pursued this matter vigorously to ensure no future child abuse would have occurred. I fear that too many of us would have acted equally hesitantly and that is a sad state of affairs for who we may be as a moral society.

      I hope that I am wrong on this.

      • Again, I was for Paterno being fired, but again I say that he did report it to the police department. PSU is a real police department – not a rent a cop security force. He should have followed up and this is why he deserves to lose his job. But the comment below from whoever that person is about the school and students only caring about football is bullshit and exactly the ignorant crap that has been floating around. These people need to learn facts before they spout off. So, did you know anything about the students and what they do? I bet not. Oh, by the way, I didn’t hear anyone mention the Citadel’s scandal. It was allegedly done by an employee of the school and it was purposely not reported and they gave the guy a reference to be principal at an all boys’ school where guess what happened? And no one is reporting it. So, it seems even the coverage of this stuff is all about football. I am done debating this too.

      • Looks like I struck a sensitive nerve here Donna. Though we disagree on certain aspects of this incident, I hope this doesn’t mean we can’t remain friends.

  2. This is incredible, thank you for sharing. My daughter is a student now at PSU and loved to go to the football games, however, when this atrocity happened, she was saddened for the victims and was outraged towards the students that can’t see the forest for the trees. She came home that weekend of the Nebraska game and cried. When she watched the beginning of the game on TV, with all the stands in silence and the players assembled on one knee in prayer she stated: ” Mom, that’s they way it should have been from the start, not the rioting over Paterno’s job”.

    She loves her school and has Penn State Pride, and I am blessed to know that she has her heart in the right place and can see through the madness all the way to the ugly core….

    Tank you again for this post, LB.

    • Yo..Donna…I’m the comment from below…. and I’m glad you are done debating.

      A mere 2000 rioted over Paterno’s fate….I hardly think that speaks for the entire student body. My child happen to be one of those Thon’s that helped raise the money… and chairs an alum organization at PSU.

      You are not the only PSU Pride filled family that is affected by all this….

      Dont’ kill the messenger…..

      LB..I hope we can still be friends…

      • But of course CW.

        My feeling on this is not to cast aspersions on the bulk of those who attend and teach at Penn State like your daughter. It was intended to highlight how far some within this organization will go though in support of a sense of fraternity without realizing that a serious social issue has occurred there and THAT should have priority at this time and place.

        Anyone who attacks Penn State as a whole is wrong for doing so and not thinking clearly.

        Thanks for checking back in CW.

        I think Donna will see my point a little bit clearer when things cool down a bit. She’s too good of a person to hold a grudge.

  3. Exactly how I feel about this. My rage and disgust extends to the students and the fans of Penn State football who put a sport above the lives of children, who’ve elevated coaches to the status of demigods. There is something lost in their souls that they’d react this way. And I fear for the children they’re raising. If adults can’t even discern when to do the right thing, how can we expect their offspring to do so? It’s NEVER about the football players or the program. It’s about childrens’ lives.

  4. I thought the Paterno case much like those faced when I taught in a Catholic school in Kansas City. After the priest abuse of the early 2000’s was revealed, all teachers and employees were required to participate in a diocesan wide training program to recognize and prevent child abuse. Parents who participated in activities within schools were also required to have training to prevent child abuse. The law here in Missouri said that teachers were to report suspected abuse to their principals and if the principal felt it was valid, the principal would report it to authorities. This sounded to me similar to what Paterno said he did. If I had had occasion to report abuse, I don’t know that I would have questioned my principal further – especially if I trusted her judgement. Paterno did not see the abuse – it was reported to him. After reading about this case at Penn State, I wonder that other incidents of abuse had floated around there for years. It sounds just like the priest abuse scandal here which was covered up by Bishop Robert Finn for months. This as a program was in place to prevent abuse and the principal had reported to the bishop directly. He covered it up. I hope the Penn State investigation is thorough and criminal actions punished appropriately. It is demoralizing to see institutions cover up crimes, especially against children, to protect themselves.

    • It must be a tough call when someone has reported such a heinous act to another who didn’t actually witness the behavior but there is always the problem of close associations when one authority works daily with the people who get reported on. That’s why it’s best to turn it over to outside authorities and let them investigate to determine if there was foul play. Being outsiders makes them a bit more objective though there is always room for error and over-reaction to such crimes.

  5. I have had to take in this story in small pieces. The details coming out about this case is very disturbing. Unfortunately this is not an uncommon story comparing it to the Catholic and Boy Scouts abuse cases. I think it proves that as in banks are to big to fail so are other large institutions — trust is eroding away in our society.

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