Dienhart: Thoughts on Paterno family lawsuit

Well, the Paterno family is suing the NCAA. We all knew this day was coming, right? As if you needed more evidence, the lawsuit illustrates the deep divide and chasm in Happy Valley—so says Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports.

This isn’t good for Penn State. But, the Paterno family seemingly doesn’t care. It’s all about trying—and I emphasize the word “trying”—to save Joe Paterno’s name. (Egos can be a powerful and dangerous thing. I’m just sayin’.)

But, honestly, isn’t it too late to save the once-glorious Paterno name? Yes, in my mind, it’s too late. Whether you a gree or disagree with the Freeh Report is moot. That debate is dead. And so is this one: Paterno’s name and image are beyond repair. Even worse: The longer this ordeal marches on, the worse it is for the school—and isn’t the future of Penn State the most important thing? Even if Paterno somehow miraculously earns back his “good name,” the cost to Penn State will have been brutally heavy. As it is, the school never will be the same. This lawsuit only delays the healing process longer, breathing new life into one of the most horrific episodes in the history of sports.

The entire episode reminds me of that Shakespeare quote from “Hamlet”: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

I bet you didn’t think you’d get some Shakespeare when you clicked on this link, did you?


About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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Your Opinion?
Show Comments (14 Comments)
Matt on 5/30/2013 @ 11:45am EDT Said:

How many times can they say it’s about finding the truth not clearing his name until you people actually listen? How does this damage Penn State in any way more than the sanctions and NCAA actually have. The truth will be heard.

misdreavus79 on 5/30/2013 @ 11:53am EDT Said:

I also agree that it’s too late for the arguments, but for different reasons than you do. Also, I disagree that this is somehow hurting the school. The school has, time after time, distanced themselves from any sort of action against the NCAA. Only the few looking for a story would try to bring this back to Penn State.

I bring this argument every time: Why aren’t more people talking about how easy it was for Sandusky to get away with it for so long? The Second Mile, several high schools, his own home, among others, are examples of places he used to molest kids. Yet, that piece is also ignored. What’s also ignored is the James Clemente report, dealing with compliant victimization and nice-guy offenders.

I’d like to see some of you writers actually grow a pair and talk about these things, instead of hiding behind the easy “Penn State did it” wall.

Keegan on 5/30/2013 @ 12:18pm EDT Said:

Wish some families, fans or people would just move on and try to rebuild.

Marie Cornelius (@mariedc1) on 5/30/2013 @ 1:58pm EDT Said:

A brilliant letter from one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit who is also a BOT member and former Navy Seal. This says it all.

May 29, 2013

Dear Chairman Masser
Board of Trustees
The Pennsylvania State University Board of Trustees:

Early tomorrow, a group of current Trustees, faculty
members, former student-athletes, former coaches and others, including members of the Paterno family, will file a civil action against the NCAA regarding the unlawful manner in which the Association, its President Mark Emmert and former Chairman Ed Ray acted to impose the excessive and unreasonable sanctions against The Pennsylvania State University.

I have spent much of my adult life overseas, most often in
third world countries, working and fighting to preserve the freedoms that all
Americans enjoy. The greatest distinguishing factor between countries in which
there is some freedom and those where authoritarian government manages personal behavior is the rule of law.

The rule of law is a three-legged stool on which freedom
sites: (i) The first leg requires that all laws be enacted in advance of the
behavior they seek to regulate and be crafted and promulgated in public by a
legitimate authority; (ii) the second leg is that no one is above the law and
no one is beneath it, and (iii) the third leg requires that the laws not be
changed retroactively or without notice by those who enforce them. (excerpted
from Judge Napolitano, JW Review article of 19 July 2012).

I believe that the NCAA has violated all three of these
principals. I further believe that as the Penn State situation demonstrates,
the NCAA is an out-of-control monopoly and that it has used its excessive power
to threaten and bully its members.

The NCAA states that it is a voluntary organization and
mandates that each voluntary member abide by its rules, decrees, sanctions and
penalties or withdraw from the Association. This is disingenuous. The NCAA has
a stranglehold on major college sports. A University cannot play sports on the
national stage without membership in the NCAA. Therefore, the NCAA is a

This lawsuit is being filed only after much thought and
careful reflection. I have had many passionate conversations with Penn State
faculty and staff, some of whom have asked to “just allow us to move on for the
sake of our students.” I have heard the please of President Erickson and former
Chairwoman Peetz of the Board of Trustees to do likewise. I understand that all
of these dedicated professionals want to go on with their mission of educating
our students. I also understand the risk that the NCAA may attempt to increase
or enhance the sanctions unless we simply capitulate and surrender without
complaint. However, I believe that there is a greater lesson here. Our
fundamental civil rights are tenuous and fragile. If we do not stand up and
defend them, we risk losing them. If we do not act to defend the civil rights
of others, we risk losing our own.

I do believe that the principals contained in the NCAA-required “Athletics Integrity Agreement” are a matter of good governance for any University. Nevertheless, as difficult as our present circumstances are, I believe we have an obligation to ensure that our students understand that there are risks and potential adverse consequences in standing up for fundamental rights.

I also believe we have an obligation to our faculty and alums to find the core truth of what may have happened at their alma mater and take steps to ensure that appropriate punishment is imposed for those guilty of committing criminal offenses.

Americans are a fair-minded people and we have an obligation
to ensure that fairness, due process and the rule of law is honored and fully

For these reasons and others, I have agreed to participate in filing and prosecuting this civil action against the NCAA.I do not seek a predetermined result and have no idea what the outcome will be. If there is blame to be borne by any of our officials, a due process hearing will not hide the facts and we will accept the judgments that follow. There have been a great many mistakes made in this tragic and unfortunate situation, which began with the shameful victimization of young children by one man. However, these mistakes are compounded by an organization that has become too powerful, too thirsty for positive media attention, and too willing to use its authority in a manner that went well beyond its charter, by-laws or established precedent.


Ryan J. McCombie

Member, Board of Trustees

The Pennsylvania State University

Willie Green on 5/30/2013 @ 3:40pm EDT Said:

Good grief… with all the vast resources of the InterWebs at your disposal, you’re trying to impress us with a hackneyed Shakespeare quote?

Al Pittman on 5/30/2013 @ 3:57pm EDT Said:

The good of the many out weigh the good of the few.

tallygal on 5/30/2013 @ 6:10pm EDT Said:

In a well-written letter by one of the plaintiffs, the name of Paterno is mentioned once, mentioned as one of the plaintiffs.

It is mean and deceptive of you to boil down this suit that seeks fairness from the NCAA for Penn State and all its members to salving the egos of Paterno family members. The NCAA has taken its most extreme action against the only public university in a major conference with no major penalties in any sport in the half-century they have been in effect! After establishing this precedent, think of what the NCAA might do to a university — as some in the Big Ten — with several prior offenses.

Everyone who cares about college sports should paste the following link to the letter in his or her browser and read it.


tallygal on 5/30/2013 @ 6:28pm EDT Said:

An accurate explanation of the suit can be found in this letter from a trustee to the chair. Incidentally, unlike Dienhart’s oversimplified and skewed description what precipitated the suit, the letter only mentions the Paterno family as a fellow plaintiff. Please paste the following in your browser:


I would have no other coach for our team than Bill O’Brien!!! Yet, I agree with this lawsuit. Penn State is the only public university in a major conference to have no penalized priors in any sport in the half-century that records have been kept. If the NCAA is doing this to Penn State, what do you think it will do to a repeat offender? In criminal court, priors are considered and penalties are not imposed without basis and precedent.

K. John on 5/30/2013 @ 8:41pm EDT Said:

Tom, it is a proven fact, yes a fact, that Joe Paterno did exactly what he was supposed to do given what little he knew at the time. It is past time that the facts start driving opinion, not media fabrications and the false narrative of the axis of evil.

Penn State is and always has been the gold standard for college athletics. Other schools in the conference and across the nation would do well to emulate the Grand Experiment. Joe Paterno’s reputation is as strong as it ever was. Only weak minded fools and delusional fools think otherwise. He is simply the greatest, most honorable coach in the games history. Nothing more, nothing less. Success with honor is more than just a saying, it is the standard operating procedure at Penn State.

Mark on 5/31/2013 @ 7:30am EDT Said:

I never lost respect for Joe as a coach or a leader of Penn State football, a developer of young men and motivator to do what required to be the best they could be. However I lost all respect of him as a man when I watched his interview after the story broke as he sobbed not about what that sick pervert did to those kids but what was to become of his legacy at PSU with seemingly no remorse for the victims. Losing respect for him as a man supersedes anything he’s done as a coach

Cholly on 5/31/2013 @ 2:23pm EDT Said:

Mark, you are delusional. There never was an episode of Joe Paterno sobbing with concern about his legacy. He simply didn’t think that way. You can make up stories but when you use it to destroy a man’s integrity than you are worse than the claims you make against him. In retrospect, should he have done more? he said so himself. Would he have done more to pretect only his legacy? NOT A CHANCE!

K. John on 6/1/2013 @ 8:41am EDT Said:

No, Joe did not say he should have done more. What he did say was, “with the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more”. You can’t dismiss the qualifying statement because it changes the meaning of the statement from “if I knew then what I know now” to an totally inaccurate “I should have done more”. Based on the facts (all of them) we know he did exactly what he was supposed to do given what the knew and more than just about anyone else. In a hypothetical situation where he was told more than he was, he still did the right thing. You report it and you back away so as not to interfere with any action or investigation, and yes, an investigation was conducted regardless of what the idiots in the press have reported. Again, to date, there is no evidence of a cover up or any type of wrong doing. That narrative is a complete and total fabrication. Always has been.

Dan on 6/1/2013 @ 8:04pm EDT Said:

Let’s talk about the “culture” of Penn State football. 46 members of the football team earned a 3.0 GPA or higher in the Spring Semester. If this is a culture of Athletics before Academics, I bet many universities want to emulate this so-called culture.

kjm on 6/13/2013 @ 9:00am EDT Said:

Mark made up a story. That never happened!

It is never too late to find out the truth. I hope the truth comes out and Joe Paterno is vindicated. I will find as much joy in that as all of the Paterno disbelievers are currently taking in his “fall.” Mostly, I blame the ignorant media. It keeps driving the court of public opinion and knows nothing about the truth.