My Thoughts on Joe Paterno

If you have been watched Sportscenter in the past few days or have kept your eye on major news channels you have seen the situation going down at Penn State University. If you have not, here is a summary of the situation. A former coach who served under Joe Paterno at PSU named Jerry Sandusky has been sexually abusing young boys since the early 90’s. It seems the news is just breaking and now he is being charged with sexual abuse with about 20 of those incidents happening while he was at PSU. You may be asking, how does coach Paterno fit in to all this? He knew about it! He failed to report it to authorities and rather protect himself and the program rather than the young boys who were abused. Because of Paterno knowledge of the events, he is no longer the coach at PSU.  Joe Paterno’s head coaching career at PSU began on Sept. 17, 1966 and this was his 46th season at PSU. As I have been watching reports of this story and seeing people’s response on social networks, two initial thoughts have been racing through my head. From every horrible situation, like this one, we can learn valuable lessons for the future. Here are two of those lessons we can learn from Joe Paterno:

Silence is approval. I first heard this catching little phrase on a leadership retreat back in high school. I must admit, most of the time this seemed more like a clever “Christian” phrase rather than a real-life principle. Now that I apply it to a real situation, like the Paterno’s situation, I see how true it is. Paterno may have not committed the sexual abuse or even agreed with it, but he kept it silent which makes him just has guilty as doing it. I know that was a harsh statement and some people might think it was too harsh, but let’s be honest, Paterno knew of young boys being sexually abused and he did not do anything about it. This world needs men who will stand up and not be silent about wrong doings, but will stand up for what is right!

Responsibility comes with leadership. Leadership is influence. If you have infuence over people, you are a leader. It is evident Paterno is a leader. Just look at the reponse of the students as they riot on the streets because of his leave from the head coaching position. Paterno has been a leader to many young men on the football field as well as to the PSU family. With this great leadership comes great repsonsibility. As a leader, you must be “above approach” the Bible says in 1 Timothy 3:2. There shouldnt be anything that should cause people to think differntly of you or cause you to be knocked out of your leadership position. I know we all mess up and no one is perfect, but as a leader you must strive to be above all wrong and protect your position because you have influence over people! Paterno should have realized his position and influence when he heard about the sexual abuse and reported it asap. Doing this would show he truly cares about the people abused and that he wanted to show people, as a leader, what the right thing is.

This are just my initial thoughts on the situation. As the story develops they may change or be tweaked, but for now these are my thoughts. Walt Mueller, a leader in the student ministry world, posted a great blog post about this situation as well. You can read that here. Learn from this situation, don’t follow the mistakes of others. What are your thoughts on the Paterno situation? What other lessons can we learn from this? I would love to hear your thoughts as well.

A very helpful book on this subject would be Character Counts by Charles Dyer. Click here to see the book and order it for a great price from Amazon.

Published by Austin McCann

Austin is the student ministries director at Redemption Chapel in Stow, OH. He has a BA from Piedmont International University and a Master of Arts in Religion with a Christian leadership focus from Liberty University School of Divinity. Austin enjoys reading, writing, playing basketball and golf, and spending time with his family.

Join the Conversation


  1. Just my two cents worth: Joe Paterno may not have taken a direct part in the abuse of these young men but he shares in the guilt for every one who was hurt after the moment he learned of Sandusky’s activities and chose to do nothing.
    Amo 3:3 Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction? How could he associate with Steve Sandusky without condoning or at least accepting his actions?

    1Ti 5:22 Never be in a hurry about appointing a church leader. Do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure. To have a man like Sandusky appointed to a position of leadership is to share in his sin. Now I understand that it is impossible to know someones deepest secrets and it is a good thing to think the best of people. But when you learn who they are and they are not who you thought they were you have another choice to make. Joe Paterno made the wrong choice at that time.

  2. Hi Austin,
    I am really disappointed in how many people are getting the story completely wrong about Joe Poterno and his involvement in this issue. Here is what really happened as reported by ESPN:

    “Much of the criticism surrounding Paterno has concerned his apparent failure to follow up on a report of a 2002 incident, in which Sandusky allegedly attacked a 10-year-old boy in the showers at the team’s football complex.

    McQueary told Paterno about the incident the next day, and the coach (Joe Paterno) notified Curley and Schultz, who in turn notified Spanier. Curley and Schultz have been charged with perjury and failure to report the incident to authorities, as required by state law.”

    You stated in your article that “Silence is Approval”, Joe Paterno was not silent. He informed the people who he was suppose to, the very day that he heard of this incident. Also, this was the only time that Joe Paterno heard any allegations against Sandusky. He did not know or was informed about the other 7 incidents that allegedly happened there at the school. The fact that he didn’t follow up with Curley and Schultz is the main issue here. Not that he didn’t report the incident.

    I believe that after Joe reported the incident and nothing was ever said to him again about it, he believed the issue closed, just like all of us would, if we reported something to our bosses that was told to us by a third party and then nothing ever came of it. Joe Paterno was not a witness to the abuse, nor was he informed about any other abuse after that. McQueary told Paterno about it and Paterno reported what he had heard. If anyone is to blame here, it’s McQueary for not reporting it to the police and also Curley and Schultz who were responsible for reporting any abuse allegations to the police.

    We have to be very careful when we judge a person. Would we have followed up with our bosses if we had been told of an incident that happened with a co-worker and the boss never got back with us, after reporting it? I find it hard to believe that so many people want to call out Mr. Paterno for being silent, when the truth is he did his part in reporting the incident, but the real blame belongs with those who broke the law by not reporting it to the police (Curley and Schultz) but also the eyewitness who only told Paterno about the incident, instead of reporting it that moment to the police. McQueary told Paterno the DAY AFTER his witnessing the abuse. The real question in my mind is, why didn’t McQueary stop Sandusky when he witnessed the abuse?

    I am a victim of abuse and I find what Sandusky did as unspeakable, but the real tragedy was that McQueary witnessed the abuse and didn’t stop it. He instead went to someone else, so that he wouldn’t have to deal with it and could avoid having to get involved. I personally believe that Paterno did what he was suppose to do and yes, in a perfect world he should have followed up, but we don’t live in a perfect world and sometimes we all forget to follow up with things that matter. As a victim of abuse myself, it’s hard to watch the focus of this tragedy go on Paterno and not on the real issue and that is never allowing any leader to be alone with a child at anytime. Abuse of a child is unthinkable and as evil a crime as can be done on this earth, but hopefully, this will wake up the schools and college’s in this country to put in place safeguards that will not only protect children from abuse, but will also protect the leaders from themselves.

    Thanks for listening and thanks for your blog.

  3. Coach Paterno was more powerful than the President of the university. He is told by a 20 something y/o grad student that anal rape of a 10 year old child occured and he never follows up after he tells his AD? Never mentions it again? I also wish the grad student had called police, but he was young and afraid. At least he told his dad, Paterno and others. So many in that town knew this was going on and did nothing, the DA did nothing. Anyone who thinks this case ends with Sandusky is mistaken. Other coaches, politicos, good grief, so many others did the same thing to young boys that Sandusky did. This was a pedophile cult of participants. This is horrific and will get worse. Victims in the hundreds.. A head coach learns his asst. is showering with young boys, that asst. still has an office on campus, he still has contact wth young boys at The Seond Mile, and you want to say sometimes we forget to follow up on things that matter? Forget? We forget to buy milk, we never forget to follow up when our employees or co-workers are taking showers with a 10 year old child.

  4. You said it yourself, he was told by a 20 something young coach who waited an entire day to tell Paterno what he saw. It’s strange to me that if he saw what he is saying he saw now, how long did he stay in that shower and watch that boy being assalted? McQueary’s creditability is very questionable and the fact that Paterno reported it as soon as he found out, show’s that it mattered to him. Sandusky was a great friend to Paterno and had been for years. It just amazes me that Christians are so quick to judge and are the first to take out their ropes and torches and get on with taking those sinners and punish them. Jesus who is our example knew that we are so quick to judge and we see that with the woman caught in adultery, a mob decided that she needed to die that day because she was guilty as charged, Jesus however began to write in the sand and whatever he wrote made that mob pause, then he said let those without sin cast the first stone and they all left one by one until the woman stood alone and Jesus said where are they, is no one here to condemn you and the woman said no sir and Jesus said neither do I.

    You have already condemned dozens of others “Other coaches, politicos, good grief, so many others did the same thing to young boys that Sandusky did.” Nothing has been said or brought out that anyone but Sandusky hurt those boys. As I said before, be very careful who you judge and how you judge, because For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Matt. 7:2

    It’s no wonder the world doesn’t see us Christians any different then them and I stand by what I said above, let those without sin cast the first stone. Maybe you see yourself as better then me, but for me, I will continue to keep close the one’s I judge and not broden my judgements to those who have not been tried and convicted. I may have been a little hard on McQueary, but I find it hard to believe that anyone could watch a child being attacked like he now claims he watched and would have waited an entire day to report it. I agree with you that he was young, but I’ve talked to dozen’s of people about what they would do if they witnessed such a thing and all of them said they would have at the very least called campus security and not gave their name. I appoligize to McQueary for judging him as harshly as I did, but I still stand by my belief that Paterno felt the matter closed, but I am not going to condemn someone before the trials over and all the facts are out, that’s just me.

    1. Scott, thank you for taking the time to read my blog and commenting on it. I appreciate your words and concerns about the whole situation and how I address it in this post. My purpose in this post was not to judge Joe Paterno, but to draw some important lessons from the situation that we need to learn. I am a sinner and capable of the very same sins that are involved in this situation. It is only by God’s grace that I am what I am today. Whenever situations arise like this one, we can learn very good lessons that will keep us from falling into the same trap.

  5. Hey Austin,
    Thanks for the response, no ill will was intended toward you, just trying to give some constructive words on our use of the internet and using others as our topic’s. I love your blog and get much out of it!!!

  6. My only comment for this blog, and the replies, are “What if it had been your son?” Mr. Paterno was not the responsible party, but his moral responsibility in this particular situation was severely lacking. And that’s not just a judgement call. Everyone has a moral responsibility to do what’s right. Now that he’s been fired, the focus can be directed to the real monster, Mr. Sandusky, and the horrors he’s been acting out for all these years.

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