A Threat to Due Process--We've Seen This Before
--But The Hopes Of WE ARE Will Prevail--
The Penn State Alumni Association Tri-County Chapter--The Villages, FL
January 28, 2018
Before I get started, since we are in an American Legion Post, I’d like to salute the Veterans we have in this room. Because of a long line of selfless Americans who served we have the blessings of constitutional freedoms that are enshrined by the rule of law. I want to talk about one specifically—Due Process.
But we live at a crossroads where the convergence of technology, a free press and free speech have endangered the rights to due process.
Penn Staters know this all too well.
In the early days of November 2011 a story broke in our community and within days it had ended the career of an innocent man and damaged the legacy of a great American in Joe Paterno.
The words written about Joe Paterno in a grand jury presentment were intentionally misleading and written by people with an agenda. Even roughly 6 years later in sentencing Penn State administrators Judge John Bocabella showed a startling ignorance of the facts of the case when he stated “Joe Paterno could have made a call without so much as even getting his hands dirty.”
A judge on the bench saying Joe wouldn’t get his hands dirty by making a call might be the understatement of all time. Joe made the call and because of that call he has had his reputation covered in mud as he was dragged into the center of this story.
It is important to note that in a 3-year grand jury investigation he testified for roughly 7 minutes—that’s it. He was a tangent to this case.
Yet from day one the coverage by opportunistic media members was skewed towards Penn State and Joe Paterno to move more product from the pipeline of media content for more revenue.
Journalism still exists, but we must never confuse journalism with media. Journalists have ethical standards and strive to uncover the truth without regards to personal opinion and certainly without skewing it towards a personal agenda.
This is not a moment to attack all journalists as #FakeNews. If journalism falls silent because those in power intimidate it, the protection from the abuse of power will fall for all.
What has changed in our country is the short attention span that has been a product of the internet and social media. We get the media we deserve so we must do better as consumers of media. The media responds to what we are reading and watching instantly.
We are all complicit because we demand and get everything in real time and now we expect justice to be just as swift.
For some, the ideals of deliberate and patient due process that are the foundations of our Rule of Law are no longer sufficient. We see a story and demand immediate justice. Social media allows outrage to create virtual mobs bearing smartphones and tablets as their torches and pitchforks.
Once those forces are unleashed it is very difficult to hold them back. I know because I have been inside a besieged home as outrage’s front lines stood across the street in the form of an army of media members.
Now we see the same forces gathering at Michigan State. The story of Larry Nassar is a tragic one for the survivors of his abuse, and his violation of a sacred trust as a doctor is horrible. He will rightfully pay for his crimes.
But the fallout from Nassar’s actions should not threaten others uninvolved in his crimes.
Now some media outlets have shifted the story to allegations about the Michigan State football and basketball programs. A long and lengthy report made some unproven assertions about how certain allegations of sexual assault were handled by those programs and coaches.
In reading the report, specifically about football, they detailed 16 allegations brought forth across 11 years. Twelve of them resulted in no charges ever being filed, and the other four players who were charged were immediately kicked off the football team.
Yet that is somehow not enough.
This is where controversy outruns the pace of finding truth.
While being interviewed on Sportscenter yesterday ESPN’s Jay Bilas—a man I greatly respect was asked about what should happen to these coaches and he responded “We need to get what the facts were, what the policies were before we can make judgments as to accountability.”
Facts to ascertain accountability…what a novel idea.
What we do know is both Michigan State’s football coach Mark Dantonio and basketball Coach Tom Izzo have been very good coaches and thoughtful men. In a profession where many coaches are trying to act like the kids they coach, they have consistently been coaches who instill values and standards to help young men grow up.
Today coaches must help guide young men through the potential pitfalls of college life while so many people are watching. The process isn’t always easy, and it isn’t perfect but it is important.
While many would argue differently I believe summarily dismissing players who are not charged with crimes is not just.
Some would even argue that dismissing players who have not been found guilty in a court of law is also unjust.
But that train has left the station. The court of opinion is all that we need any more. If I FEEL that you are guilty, you must be.
What we have forgotten is that this nation’s judicial system was designed to protect innocent people from being punished for crimes they did not commit. The founders would have us err on the side of the innocent.
So every time I see the growing storms of outrage my stomach churns and I replay the nightmares of those days in November of 2011 where we, all of us as Penn Staters had to withstand a wave of outrage.
The financial damage done by a panicked Board of Trustees has reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars. The reputational damage could be measured in the billions of dollars.
I don’t have to tell Penn Staters who live further away that the comments still persist. I don’t have to tell you what we’ve all heard and continue to hear.
Reputational damage is hard to repair. For everyone in this room when I say the words “Kent State” you immediately see an image of students shot by the National Guard, you think of a tragedy. For the rest of our lives when the words Penn State are uttered something will come to most minds that is very different from what it was 7 years ago.
We can blame the media, and certainly the false narratives they reported are a big part of the problem. But the blame also lies with the people who took the reins of our University in November 2011. Rather than defend the pursuit of truth and our University, they allowed the stories to persist and through subsequent actions fostered ever more fanciful false narratives.
So even now work remains to be done.
But from even the darkest moments in life we can find good.
In July of 2012 after the Freeh Report had turned my father from a revered patriarch to a reviled pariah in a note I wrote to my mother I stated:
“Even in the darkest moments when doubts tear at the threads of my SANITY, I cling to the TRUTH that at the bottom of Pandora’s Box was that ONE word HOPE.”
So what was that HOPE?
That HOPE was what has happened since those days. For Penn Staters hope was found because we grew even more committed to each other, to our school and towards building an ever brighter future for our University.
As many in the world turned on us, we turned towards each other to say even louder that WE ARE Penn State.
And what exactly ARE WE? Are we solely to adhere to the wishes of the University President and the administration and the Board Majority and the path they seek to chart?
WE ARE the love, the hopes and the aspirations of generations of people who came to Penn State as our Alma Mater says: “shapeless in the hands of fate.” We are the dreams of those who came before us and those who study there now and those who will come after us.
Penn State is what will endure. It was here before us and it will remain long after the appointed hour when the fates determine we will take our last mortal breath on this earth.
So that is the Hope we have. Your voices are being heard, maybe not by all, but they are being heard by people on the front lines who will fight for Penn State. There are those who believe in Penn State as a shining city on the hill, a beacon of equality of opportunity for young people.
They believe those values were not compromised and still stand today.
The soul of Penn State should remain true to the land-grant mission that was its foundation. No deal with the devil should ever be made to compromise the noble mission.
Our Hope is that we are a place where truth is sought and the lessons learned can be spread far and wide.
Even in the wake of the story we have endured, Sue Paterno commissioned and paid for a report that outlined for everyone how certain types of offenders operated in plain sight. Penn State’s Administration, the NCAA and Louis Freeh immediately dismissed the report as paid propaganda to defend Joe Paterno.
In their rush to defend their false narratives, actions and overreach they blinded the world to a report by an FBI profiler who’d investigated hundreds of similar cases.
That report contained key details that, had they been read, could have helped people at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State detect the offender in their midst…..if only our University administration had acted to promote those findings.
Sue Paterno also spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars to fund a program to train people to recognize these types of abuses across Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education. While the state schools acted to utilize this resource, Penn State’s administration declined.
It was an opportunity lost and now 5 years after that report was issued we as a nation witness yet another story about wide-ranging abuse.
When will we ever learn if someone like Sue Paterno is discredited by her own Alma Mater’s administration? Seeing people ask how Nassar could’ve gone undetected I want to scream “Read the report.”
A great coach once said “it’s not what happens to you in life that matters, it’s how you react to what happens to you that counts.”
All Penn Staters have born the yolk of unfair blame. But I ask that we react through continual hope and actions to create a better future for Penn State. But we should also reach out to anyone associated with Michigan State.
Their alumni wearing the Spartan logo will now feel the stares, hear the whispers and the blame of outsiders who cast the shadow of shame upon all who went to that school. They should not bear the blame nor the shame of the actions of the man who committed these crimes.
So to that end let us continue the work at our University while also looking to help others about to walk the bitter path we’ve already trod.
Across the generations what makes Penn Staters special has been a commitment to making our University and the World a better place. Let us all aspire in our days ahead to further that goal in our lives and for the future of our beloved Alma Mater.
Whether we want to or not we are the ones called to “Fight for her Honor” so let our hopes rest in the pursuit of her cause against all who would do her harm from outside and within.
There is a reason to be excited about Penn State’s future, to have hope. It is because of people like you in this room who will always believe and will always love our school.
That is what WE ARE….