Jennifer Thomas is a bestselling author, psychologist, speaker, consultant & apology critic

Joe Paterno and the Penn State Scandal: Accepting Responsibility?


Update: Joe Paterno died of cancer on Jan. 22, 2012.

I specialize in handling offenses.  To date, the Sandusky sexual abuse scandal in Pennsylvania has been long on offenses and short on apologies.  Given the pending trial/s, I imagine the apologies will be held until any future sentencing hearing.  In the meantime, here are my reflections:

  • I’d like to make note of an apology fragment that appeared in one of Joe Paterno’s statements.  Did you catch it?  Against the likely advice of attorneys, he said this regarding his handling of the abuse of minors by one of his assistant coaches:  “I wish I had done more.”  Paterno’s quote falls under our second language of apology (out of five apology languages):  Accepting Responsibility.  This language of apology involves stating wrongdoing without making excuses.  Paterno, other coaches, his superiors, board members of the Second Mile charity, possibly the police, and others also should have “done more.”  Paterno’s statement rings true.  Will others go farther in accepting responsibility?  May truth and decency regain their footing in State College, PA.
  • The children who have survived abuse are the most important people in this mess.  I don’t call them “victims” because my experience as a therapist who treat sexual abuse tells me this: survivors are carrying on and showing strength each day.  Lets not lose the human stories in the midst of this sports story.
  • I can only imagine how embarrassed the fine students/faculty/alumni of Penn State and residents of State College may be feeling.  They didn’t ask to have an enormous scandal tied to their beloved school.  I had a front row seat on this phenomenon when there was a terrible shooting at Virginia Tech.  As you may recall, the news networks dubbed the story: “Massacre at Virginia Tech.” My husband’s father was an engineering professor at Virginia Tech and husband graduated from Blacksburg High School.  Having the story sensationalized in red letters added to his sadness, as I imagine it does to those who love Penn State and who worry about its strong reputation.
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