Joe Paterno is a bad person: A lesson in Mutual Exclusivity

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When Penn State announced plans to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Joe Paterno becoming head football coach it was buried in press announcements about the upcoming football season. Despite the fact that many Penn State alumni and some powerful members of the Penn State Board of Directors feel as though Paterno was made a scapegoat for decades of child rape by former Paterno assistant Jerry Sandusky, the fact that the school did not make a big deal of the announcement and attempted to downplay the significance of the event demonstrates that others do not feel similarly.

Although the muted announcement was met with swift and harsh criticism from the mediathe public as well as current Penn State students the planned video tribute moved ahead as planned. And when it was broadcast inside Beaver Stadium the reaction was mixed. The scene outside of the stadium prior to the game versus Temple indicated as much.

NCAA Football: Temple at Penn State

NCAA Football: Temple at Penn State

Those who continue to support Joe Paterno seemingly do not understand the concept of mutual exclusivity. In logic or probability theory mutual exclusivity is when two propositions or events cannot both be true or both occur. For example, a tossed coin cannot land on both heads and tails. The coin may land on either heads or tails but not both because the two sides of the coin are mutually exclusive. Heads and tails are individually possible but jointly exhaustive. Joe Paterno may be analyzed similarly.

Joe Paterno donated and raised possibly millions of dollars benefiting Penn State and the state of Pennsylvania. Including the library at Penn State. Paterno positively impacted hearts and minds of thousands of Penn State student-athletes. He stressed the importance of academics. The NCAA had never sanctioned Penn State football under his stewardship prior to the sex abuse scandal. And he was one of the best college football coaches of all-time.

Joe Paterno turned a blind eye and covered for a child rapist for decades. As early as 1971 it has been alleged that Joe Paterno knew about child rapes perpetrated by Jerry Sandusky and did nothing about it. He possibly even actively engaged in covering up the rape by pressuring victims not to go to the police. He was actively involved in The Second Mile charity which was used by Sandusky to cultivate victims.

Joe Paterno is not the sole example of this phenomenon.

Art Briles was extremely charitable. According to Briles he lives his life based on faith. His players love him. Briles has said he never did anything “illegal, immoral or unethical” in his life. And many people agree with that statement. Recently former Baylor president, Kenneth Starr, who had been fired in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal there, said he believes “a grave injustice was done to Art Briles. Coach Briles has been calumnied … it’s completely unfair”. Art Briles was a great college football coach, by far the best ever at Baylor.

Art Briles assisted in perpetuating an environment hospitable to sexual abuse at Baylor University. The Pepper Hamilton report commissioned by Baylor found that Baylor failed to “consistently support complainants through the provision of interim measures, and that in some cases, the University failed to take action to identify and eliminate a potential hostile environment, prevent its recurrence, or address its effects for individual complainants or the broader campus community”. Additionally, it was found that in at least some cases the university actively discouraged complainants from reporting abuse or participating in student conduct processes. This included members of the football coaching staff covering up rapes perpetrated by football players. Recently it has been reported that there continue to be members of the football staff who believe nothing wrong was done.

Joe Paterno and Art Briles each did great things on and off the football field. Joe Paterno and Art Briles each perpetuated and encouraged a culture of sexual abuse. Each is true. But Joe Paterno and Art Briles cannot both perpetuate rape and be good people. Those conditions are mutually exclusive.

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