In ancient times, the dead were subject to punishment by having their estates seized and if there was true disdain for the person, having the body buried beneath the road that led into and out-of-town. That way, everyone could walk all over the person for eternity. We as a society have generally moved away from punishing the dead – let their soul’s rest in peace; but not entirely.
The latest example of punishing the dead comes from the NCAA in its handling of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse fiasco. Penn State University was subjected to severe sanctions for its handling of the matter. Along with the University, the late Joe Paterno also had the finger of accusation pointed his way. So much so, he was punished along with the school in that all his wins since 1998 were forfeited; removing him as the most winningest coach in NCAA Division I history.
The basis of the punishment came from the Freeh report which accused Mr. Paterno of covering up Jerry Sandusky’s monstrous behavior. The report does reference some information that Mr. Paterno was involved in decision-making but to what extent is unclear. Mr. Paterno is either a monster, some sort of naive or his conduct falls somewhere in between. The Freeh report labelled him a monster, a recommendation accepted as fact by the NCAA; thus the hammering of his reputation.
Now the Paterno family has come forward to challenge these assertions in hopes of restoring some of the old coaches reputation. Perfectly understandable and under the circumstances, appropriate. In less than a year, Joe went from saint to devil, with narely a person rasing a voice in opposition. Is this characterization fair or not?
It is a hallmark of American legal jurisprudence that to discover the truth, facts must be contested and through this contestation, justice will be served. Well, that has not happened in this case as most involved want to get this sordid event behind them. So allegations are accepted as true without much of a whimper. The Freeh report may be spot on or it may be wildly inaccurate. Those affected by the report should have a chance to refute its claims. Mr. Paterno through his estate should be afforded that opportunity – it is the fair thing to do.
The Paterno family filed a notice of appeal with the NCAA. This appeal was summarily rejected. The NCAA is being short-sighted in this matter. If the facts are so strong in their favor, what is the harm in proceeding with an appeal. It will only lead to a validation of their assertion that Mr. Paterno turned a blind eye while Jerry Sandusky molested young boys. And if not, then Mr. Paterno’s reputation will be restored to some extent. Either way, justice will be served.
As stated above, we have generally moved away from punishing the dead, it is best to leave them rest in peace. When we feel it is necessary to abandon this principle and punish a corpse, fairness dictates that we allow the estate to respond. It is the American way.