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A cautionary word against lynching those who are not guilty

Lynch mobs are, unfortunately, a topic with which we have a significant amount of experience in the state of Georgia. And, being student of history both favorable and unfavorable to my region, I believe that I know what a lynch mob looks like when I see one. And right now, Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a full-fledged lynch mob armed with proverbial torches, pitchforks, and six-foot-lengths of rope massing around The Pennsylvania State University.

This is quickly becoming a dangerous and uncontrollable situation, as lynch mobs tend to be, and all of the media carelessly stoking the fires need to just calm the heck down right now, because a lot of innocent people with absolutely no connection to the horrific crimes committed in State College are about to get taken down for no good reason.

As seems to be the norm for bloggers that oppose the draconian measures currently being bandied about for the Penn State football program, I feel it necessary to state the following points directly and unequivocally:

- Since the child molestation and abuse charges against Jerry Sandusky have been proven in a court of law, Sandusky should be punished to the fullest extent possible. This man appears to simply be a monster, and should be treated as such.

- The members of the Penn State administration that appear to be complicit in the cover-up of the initial allegations made against Sandusky, including Graham Spanier, Gary Schultz, and Tim Curley, should also be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Their actions, and more specifically their inactions, are inexcusable.

To those who think that the crimes and ensuing cover-up of child molestation allegations against Sandusky are some great conspiracy, however, I would like to remind them of Hanlon's Razor, which is an adage to which I firmly hold:

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity or incompetence.

More on this in a bit. But first:

I know at least two people whom I consider friends who have been sexually abused in the past, and also know others who have family members or people who they previously considered friends who have been exposed as child predators. And based on my discussions with those people, I can confidently state this: You can not be confident that you know if a person or persons in your life might or might not be a child predator.

I'm not intending to say this as a "scare tactic" or in trying to make some melodramatic proclamation; it's simply true. In general, the people who sexually abuse children (and get away with it for any length of time) are pretty much the last people you'd suspect of it. They are friendly, easy to approach, and generally seem very trustworthy. (These are the qualities that allow them to maneuver into compromising situations with children in the first place.)

And because of this, when allegations are first leveled at these people, they always have seemingly convincing stories as to why the allegations are not true, and one is generally inclined to believe them, because they are trustworthy and believable. Also, they rarely, if ever have a track record of doing these kind of things before, so why would you want to immediately condemn a person with the lifelong stigma of "child molester" when the evidence is almost always circumstantial and vague, and their excuses/explanations so believable?

So, how does one trust anybody, you ask? How can anyone trust any person in this world alone with their child? To be honest, I'm not a parent, so I don't know the answer. That's not really the point I'm trying to make here, but simply to address the issue, one must only entrust their children with people they think they know very well and can completely trust, and one must educate their child on how to not get maneuvered into a potentially compromising 1-on-1 situation with an adult. (Which is what makes Sandusky's crimes all the more egregious: He was preying on children who had no one to protect them in that manner, and whose word would generally be dismissed out-of-hand when placed against his because of their disadvantaged backgrounds. However, moving on...)

This is why I don't think there was some grand conspiracy to "protect the football program" at Penn State. And, if you read the report produced by Louis Freeh with a relatively objective mindset, I don't think you would come to that conclusion, either. I don't have to ascribe the actions of Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Curley, and Paterno to malice. Why? Because their actions are adequately explained by a combination of incompetence and stupidity. The allegations were reported, they said to themselves, "You gotta be kidding me. There's no way Jerry would do something like that," and promptly stuck their heads in the sand. And by doing so, they allowed the man who will now be one of our country's most notorious child predators to continue preying on children for at least an additional decade. That certainly does not relieve them of any responsibility for their inaction, nor am I claiming that's the case. I'm merely stating that I don't believe it was some malicious conspiracy. They were merely incompetent and stupid, which is not a sufficient legal, ethical, or moral defense.

Of course, one of the key points I've not mentioned to this point is the role of Joe Paterno in this mess. And if he were still alive, Coach Paterno would very likely now be facing the same criminal and civil retributions that will undoubtedly be coming in the months ahead for the former members of the Penn State administration. Coach Paterno is no longer alive, however, so I see no point in belaboring any discussion of his "legacy" at this point. See, the thing about a legacy is that it can only be properly viewed with the emotional dampener of time between you and the events you're reviewing. It's far too soon to make sweeping judgements about Paterno's legacy. And as for his statue in State College... well, that's Penn State's call. I don't care whether it stays up or comes down, and I can see good arguments for both sides of the question. I'd probably vote to leave it alone for now, but I'm more of a "let's give this thing a little time and think about it" kind of guy.

The primary point I am going to attempt to make here is that, no matter how abominable and egregious Jerry Sanduky's crimes may be, and no matter how complicit Joe Paterno was with Spanier, Schultz, and Curley in covering up the (then) allegations against him, the Penn State football program does not deserve the NCAA "death penalty." I believe this is true for the following reasons:

1) Those who were responsible for allowing this situation to continue are no longer employed at Penn State.

Louis Freeh conducted what appears to be an incredibly thorough investigation of all the available facts in this case. (In fact, I wish he'd been as thorough in his prior investigation of corruption in FIFA, but that's a whole 'nother story.) His conclusion was that the primary parties that were guilty of the institutional cover-up of this crime were Graham Spanier, PSU president, Gary Schultz, a PSU vice president, Tim Curley, PSU athletic director, and head coach Joe Paterno. This represents a chain of command that literally goes from the "front lines" of this incident all the way up to the top of the organization, and Louis Freeh, at least, was satisfied that no other members of the Penn State administration even knew about the allegations against Sandusky.

All of these men were either suspended or fired promptly upon the uncovering of their role in this scandal, and none of them are employed any longer by Penn State. Also, one of them is dead. How is justice served by punishing those who remain, who had no knowledge or complicity in these crimes?

2) The remaining administrators at Penn State have fully cooperated with (and are still fully cooperating with) the criminal authorities and the NCAA.

As soon as word of the indictments against Jerry Sandusky became public, the bureaucratic machine at Penn State launched into "full alert" mode. Some people might think their initial actions were overreactions (for example, the virtually immediate firing of Joe Paterno), but I think those reactions displayed how sincere they were in addressing this issue seriously and immediately. Sure, it can be argued that they were trying to "CYA," but whether that characterization is accurate depends on your point of view.

Literally from the first day this scandal became public, the Board of Trustees and the remaining administration at Penn State vowed to cooperate 100% with all law enforcement activities, and by all accounts, they have done just that. Is justice being served by rewarding their full cooperation with a bullet in the back of the head?

3) None of the current coaching staff or football players at Penn State had even a minute role in Jerry Sandusky's affairs, or the ensuing cover-up.

Unless I'm mistaken, literally none of the current football coaching staff at Penn State remains from the era when Jerry Sandusky was patrolling the sidelines. In fact, only two coaches (Rob Vanderlinden and John Butler) remain from last year's coaching roster. None of these coaches had any role at all in the Sandusky scandal or the cover-up, and none of them were in a position where they "should have seen something" or "should have known something wasn't right" during the era when Sandusky was preying on children inside the Penn State football facilities.

And the players on the current football team were barely in elementary school when Jerry Sandusky retired as defensive coordinator at Penn State. (In fact, most them were of an age where they themselves, if placed in the wrong circumstances, could have been the ones molested by Sandusky, which makes my skin crawl just to think about.)

How is justice served by forcing an entire roster of innocent players to look for a new school with an available scholarship (if any of the players beyond the top 25 or so can find one), and by forcing an entire staff of innocent coaches to find another job?

4) The hundreds of thousands of Penn State football fans are not guilty of anything except passionately caring about their school and their football team.

Some who advocate for the death of Penn State football point the accusatory finger at, of all people, the fans themselves for creating a "cult of personality" around Joe Paterno. But let's, just for a moment, look at the facts of the situation as they existed to a regular fan prior to November, 2011:

- 1966: Joe Paterno is hired by Penn State to coach its football team in an era where there is no longer a true football powerhouse in the northeast. He declares that he's going to embark upon what he calls a "Grand Experiment." Namely, his goal is to build a championship-level football program in the northeast while maintaining the highest levels of academic integrity and excellence. "Success With Honor" becomes the program's motto.

- 1968-'69: Penn State goes undefeated in two consecutive football season, earning a final AP poll ranking of #2 each time. He would again achieve an undefeated season in 1973, finishing #5 in the final AP poll.

- 1982: Joe Paterno wins his first national championship, defeating Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker and Georgia in the 1983 Sugar Bowl (wince). He would win a second national championship in the 1986 season, defeating Miami (FL) in the Fiesta Bowl

- 2005: After suffering a Wally Butts-ian streak of 4 losing seasons in 5 years, Paterno's 2005 Nittany Lion football team rebounds to win a share of the Big Ten title, going 11-1 and earning an Orange Bowl victory over Bobby Bowden's Florida State Seminoles. He would also steer the Lions to another Big Ten title and Rose Bowl berth in 2008, before the scandal we all know and hate broke in 2011.

Given these facts, how do you think you would have felt about Joe Paterno, if you'd been a lifelong Penn State football fan? There's no question that PSU fans were zealous in their fanatical support of Paterno, and some still are, even given the vocal outcry against his post-1994 actions now. Prior to November of last year, all they knew was that he was a coach who led them from nothing to greatness, and who (for those 46 and younger) had coached their favorite team all of their lives.

The Penn State fans are just as much innocent bystanders here as the current players and coaches are. They just love Penn State and want to see them win football games. Sure, they may have been guilty of having a "cult of personality" around Joe Paterno, but Coach Paterno is now no longer the coach, has a massively tainted legacy, and is dead. How is justice served by depriving the fans of their last shred of what remains of their lifelong fanhood... the team itself?

In case I haven't yet stated my point clearly enough, let me offer this summation:

Anyone who is arguing that the Penn State football program should receive the NCAA "death penalty" is wrong. Even if there are valid arguments in favor of levying such a heavy blow (and I concede that there might be), the arguments against such an action dwarf them. Penn State football has already been shattered, tattered, and torn, all without the NCAA's "help." Let the criminal and civil justice system proceed along its course, and allow the fans, alumni, coaches, and players of the current Penn State football team get back to the business of rebuilding their football program. They have already suffered greatly, and will continue to suffer for years without your helpful pitchfork in their eye.