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Here We Go Again

by on November 30, 2017 5:00 AM

"By the time someone gets here in 2014, it will be just a distant memory" -- Former Penn State Board of Trustees Chair Karen Peetz in 2012.

Just weeks from 2018 the “it” Karen Peetz was talking about resurfaced with a vengeance from an unlikely place — Knoxville, Tennessee. So much for this all being “just a distant memory.”

The narrative set in motion in 2011, no matter how false, remains a threat that’s always just around the corner. For those in Tennessee and around the country just joining us, the conspiracy charges and cover-up narrative were refuted by legal experts and more importantly rejected in the courts.

But we have entered a time in America where any and all slanderous arrows aimed at people of great character find their mark if it fits our agenda. We no longer weigh the credibility of the accuser versus that of the accused. If we want to believe it, we do.

This past Sunday another example emerged. Tennessee’s plan to hire Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano as the Volunteers’ head coach exploded when some fans protested on campus and on social media using a discredited story from the Sandusky scandal. Not surprisingly, opportunistic politicians jumped in too.

While those fans congratulated themselves for turning back the hire, they ignored that their voices raised a lie that attacked a man of character. I understand why they may believe that lie. Penn State’s administration has acted repeatedly in ways which aided that flawed rush to judgment.

Although Tennessee’s administration knew the story wasn’t true, they chose to heed the virtual pitchforks and torches.

The story that resurfaced Sunday was hearsay in a deposition from Mike McQueary involving former Penn State assistant coaches Tom Bradley and Greg Schiano. Both Bradley and Schiano issued denials over a year ago. The allegation was looked into during the attorney general’s investigation and deemed to lack credibility.

Knowing and having worked with all three men, I firmly believe those denials, and for good reason. In the same deposition, Mike McQueary mentioned me in a statement that is not true.

Yet on Sunday, someone painted an allegation of a cover-up of child rape at Penn State on a big rock on Tennessee’s campus. Everything painted on that rock was a lie.

But we have come to a time and place in America where often the truth no longer matters. We demand that people we dislike offer proof beyond all reasonable doubt that they are innocent of every slanderous statement ever uttered about them.

Due process? Innocent until proven guilty? Gone.

The vocal masses believe the armor of alleged victimhood gives one ultimate credibility over the rights of the accused. In this age, anyone can post allegations on social media, blindsiding the accused and destroying their presumption of innocence.

To illustrate the attitudes of some in America, consider that on Nov. 11, activist and writer Emily Lindin tweeted “I’m not actually concerned about innocent men losing their jobs over false sexual assault/harassment allegations.”

That statement denying the founding values of this country got more support than you’d hope. Some offered half-baked rationales of support.

Innocent men who lived lives of integrity should never lose their careers over false accusations. The lies impact them and their families. They’ll see their names and lives dragged through the mud. If you’ve ever been on the wrong side of false allegations, you understand my outrage.

A reputation of integrity and honesty built across generations is a treasure more precious than gold. It takes hard work and character to build. But it can be gone unjustly in the blink of an eye by the utterance of false words. And the damage endures. The stain is nearly impossible to ever wash from your life, while the mob walks away unscathed to the next outrage.

Today’s social media mob is no more intelligent than the forces that overran Salem or those behind vigilante lynchings in this country. Across centuries human nature has changed little, but the tools of attack are more wide-reaching than before.

In 2011 and now in 2017 the problem was and remains compounded by the rabbit ears of people in positions of leadership. How can we ever hope to lead when reactionary leaders retreat from the core values of due process and right and wrong in the face of unjust social media outrage?

Sports Illustrated’s Peter King summed it up best on Monday: “Innuendo won. The witch hunters won. It is a sad day in America.”

Peter King is right. But the sad days at Penn State began years ago and they continue. The reputations of many good people have been tarnished by innuendo and witch hunters. Greg Schiano is just the latest to have to face these unfair attacks based on lies.

Almost four years after Karen Peetz promised “it” would be a distant memory the specter still rises.

Only the strong will stand to defend truth. What happened here is an example of what is happening nationwide. In America the ranks of those brave enough to withstand the surge of social media outrage are thinning.

That is not something we want trending.


State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at
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