By Stacy M. Brown (NNPA Newswire Contributor)
The Montgomery County District Attorney prosecuting Bill Cosby’s sexual assault case encouraged administration officials at Pennsylvania State University to honor Joe Paterno, the once-revered football coach, who was fired in the wake of a child abuse scandal involving one-time assistant coach and convicted serial rapist Jerry Sandusky.
In a May 2016 letter that was addressed to Penn State President Eric Barron, Chairman of the Board of Trustees Keith Masser, and Coach Paterno’s wife, Kevin Steele and leaders of the Penn State Alumni Association acknowledged that more work needed to be done to heal wounds left over from the university’s “darkest hour.” The group also urged the university to develop plans to formally recognize Paterno’s contributions during the 50th anniversary of his first game as head football coach of the Nittany Lions.
The letter, signed by Steele, the president of the alumni association, Paul J. Clifford, the chief executive officer, Steve B. Wagman, the vice president, and Kay Frantz Salvino, the immediate past president, said that, “Overwhelmingly, Penn State alumni feel that Coach Paterno should and must be honored, not for his contributions on the football field, but also for his contributions to the academic life of this great University.”
The letter continued: “Ninety-one percent of alumni who responded to a recent survey conducted by the Penn State Alumni Association agreed that Penn State should publicly recognize Joe Paterno for his service to Penn State.”
The school celebrated Paterno’s achievements, on and off the field, during a game in September 2016 against Temple University.
According to court documents related to an insurance coverage case, “in 1976, a child allegedly reported to PSU’s Head Coach Joseph Paterno that he (the child) was sexually molested by Sandusky.”
The documents also reference incidents in 1987 and 1988 including at least one case that was referred to Penn State’s athletic director, PennLive.com reported.
In the executive summary of an independent, special report issued in 2012 about the actions Penn State officials took related to the child sexual abuse committed by Sandusky, investigators wrote that, “The most saddening finding by the Special Investigative Counsel is the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims.”
Paterno was one of those senior leaders, according to the report that,” failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade.”
In an interview with Sally Jenkins for The Washington Post, Paterno, who died from cancer a few months after he was fired, said that he didn’t know exactly how to handle the allegations and that he was afraid to do anything that could jeopardize “university procedure.”
“So, I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did,” Paterno told The Washington Post. “It didn’t work out that way.”
The Washington Post article noted that, “Paterno is accused of no wrongdoing, and in fact authorities have said he fulfilled his legal obligations by reporting to his superiors.”
Steele’s support for the fallen college football icon, even as allegations that Paterno didn’t do enough to stop Sandusky as he sexually assaulted young boys on Penn State’s campus, for decades, has caused some court watchers to question the district attorney’s motives for pursuing the Cosby sexual assault case.
When the jury in the Cosby sexual assault case deadlocked in June, Steele promised a retrial.
“This certainly suggests a double-standard, a zeal to prosecute Cosby for a crime he may have committed, while working to honor a man who acknowledged knowing of an even greater crime, in this case, the sexual abuse of children,” said Robert C. Smith, a political science professor at San Francisco State University. “An explanation of this apparent bias and moral obtuseness requires explanation and discussion.”
It’s vaguely possible that the defense could move to disqualify Steele, but the judge may not agree, said Robert Weisberg, the faculty co-director at the Stanford University Criminal Justice Center.
“Does it show that the prosecutor is a hypocrite? Why would that matter,” Weisberg said, noting that Steele may owe it to his colleagues to offer some explanation for his Paterno support. “Even if it has no effect on the case outcome, it may cause some public perception of his skewed motives and harm the reputation of his office. Certainly, he should have avoided doing this in the first place.”
In February 2016, Cosby’s lawyers sought to bar Steele from prosecuting the first case, citing campaign promises that Steele made to charge Cosby, if he was elected Montgomery County District Attorney.
The Times Chronicle reported, “In a 30-second television ad, Steele attacked [former district attorney Bruce] Castor for not charging Cosby in 2005 when former Temple University athletic department employee Andrea Constand first claimed Cosby sexually assaulted her at his Cheltenham home.”
Cosby’s lawyers argued, that the famous Black entertainer was a political football leading up to the election in the fall of 2015, according to the Times Chronicle.
Montgomery County Court Judge Steven T. O’Neill disagreed and ruled that there had been no misconduct.
Carolyn M. Byerly, a professor and chair of the Department of Communication, Culture and Media Studies at the School of Communications at Howard University said that the prosecutor serves the public and his values and professional conduct must be in the public’s interest.
“With that in mind, yes, the public has the right to know why he would support the honoring of [Paterno] while he prosecutes Cosby…something seems to be out of moral and ethical alignment,” Byerly said.
Retired Air Force Major General Charles J. Dunlap, Jr., said he was confounded by the Steele-Paterno news.
“You can say it’s apples-to-oranges, but I’m not so ready to just dismiss it as that, because Kevin Steele, if he stood for justice, would not be standing for Joe Paterno and standing for Paterno is tantamount, in my eyes, to standing for Jerry Sandusky,” said Carla Askew, a paralegal who works in Washington, D.C. and who previously attended Temple University.
Temple University, where Cosby served on the board of trustees until 2014, counted among the many colleges and universities, who withdrew honorary degrees bestowed upon the actor after dozens of women claimed that he assaulted them.
“So, is it fair to say that, because Joe Paterno was a great coach, all should be forgiven?” Askew continued. “Bill Cosby has won a bunch of Emmy’s and Grammy’s, so I’d like to ask Mr. Steele if he’ll be writing a letter of recommendation for a Bill Cosby honor.”