Ethics Quote of the Week: Joe Paterno

“This is not a football scandal and should not be treated as one.”

The late Joe Paterno, legendary Penn State football coach, in a previously unreleased and unpublished column he wrote in the wake of the  Joe Sandusky child abuse scandal, in which he played a major role. The internal Penn State investigation into the university’s handling of the episode was released today.


In denial to the end, Paterno never understood how he, and football, contributed to the culture that allowed Sandusky to prey on young boys with the passive assistance of Joe and the school he loved.

Of course the scandal was about football. It was about how reliance on football to the exclusion of all other priorities and values warped an academic culture. It was about the danger of elevating a football coach to such status and power that his tunnel-vision could infect an entire college campus. It was about how the grotesquely exaggerated importance, popularity, visibility, and financial profitability of a football program can elevate those responsible for its success to a degree where they become unaccountable, and able to exploit their power for private and possibly criminal motives.

The Sandusky scandal was about the consequences of allowing winning in a competitive sport and the status it conveys to become an opiate for the administration and the student body, to the point where even protecting innocent children from being defiled by a sick predator couldn’t divert Penn Sate from placing its football program’s welfare and image before all else.*

No, Joe didn’t understand, but at a healthy university with proper priorities and values, the fact that a successful football coach’s perceptions were warped wouldn’t matter very much, because that’s the way they all are. It mattered at Penn State, however, to a tragic extent, because at Penn State, football was everything.

This was a football scandal, all right.

(You can read the report on it here.)

* From the Freeh Report: “Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley never demonstrated, through actions or words, any concern for the safety and well-being of Sandusky’s victims until after Sandusky’s arrest. In order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at Penn State University…repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse.”



Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at

6 thoughts on “Ethics Quote of the Week: Joe Paterno

  1. The Freeh report does not mention anything about D.A. Ray Gricar’s decision to not prosecute Sandusky.

    I wonder why.

  2. This is the worst kind of greed… liberals of all kinds talk constantly about corporate greed, and how people are harmed, but these were KIDS, and the perpetrator of years of repeated sexual abuse was protected at the highest levels of the University. I think the NCAA should dump the University of Pennsylvania right out… for at least a decade. This is incomprehensible, reprehensible, indefensible… and I’d like to see the leaders of this supposedly highly-regarded University go to jail. I only hope they lose their shirts (no pun intended) with law suits, and let Penn State go back to where it deserves to be — a backwater college that has to pay the price for its greed. And it WAS greed — big football at the price of hundreds of young men’s lives?

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