Did Malcolm Gladwell Say Penn State Should Restore a Statue of Joe Paterno?

Author Malcolm Gladwell’s latest defense of deceased Penn State University football coach Joe Paterno drew attention on January 29 2020.

During a speech at the campus in State College, Pennsylvania, Gladwell once again said that a statue of Paterno — who was fired in 2011 for failing to respond appropriately to an alleged sexual assault by a former subordinate nine years earlier — should be restored. The remark was reported by both the Penn State student newspaper, the Daily Collegian, and the Centre Daily Times. The two publications were billed as the hosts of the event.

“That statue is in honor of someone’s integrity, skills as a football coach, and contributions to his community,” Gladwell said. “All of those three things are still intact. None of those things were called into question by the events surrounding the case, so I think the statue deserves to go back up.”

In reality, a 2012 report conducted by former Louis Freeh, a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, determined that the behavior of not only Paterno, but three other high-ranking university officials — president Graham B. Spanier, senior vice-president of finance and business Gary C. Shultz, and athletic director Timothy M. Curley — was questionable concerning the abuses committed by Paterno’s assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

“These men concealed Sandusky’s activities from the Board of Trustees, the University community and authorities,” the report stated:

They exhibited a striking lack of empathy for Sandusky’s victims by failing to inquire as to their safety and well-being, especially by not attempting to determine the identity of [a] child who Sandusky assaulted in the Lasch Building in 2001.

According to the report, it was reasonable to conclude that one reason Paterno and his fellow university leaders hid the facts related to Sandusky’s aggression against children was “in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity.” Instead, the four men allowed Sandusky to retire from coaching in 1999 despite being under criminal investigation, a decision that granted him a “license to bring boys to campus facilities for ‘grooming’ as targets for his assaults.”

The report also found that Sandusky continued to have unfettered access to university facilities until November 2011, when he was arrested in his home.

“Despite their knowledge of [a] criminal investigation of Sandusky, Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley took no action to limit Sandusky’s access to Penn State facilities or took any measures to protect children on their campuses,” it said.

Both Paterno and Spanier were fired from the university on November 9 2011. Curley and Schultz later resigned from their own positions. Sandusky was convicted on 45 out of 48 counts of sexual abuse on June 22 2012 after being accused of abusing ten boys over a 15-year period. Exactly a month after Sandusky’s conviction, a statue of Paterno outside the school’s football stadium was removed.

Gladwell reportedly devoted a chapter in his most recent book to defending Paterno, an argument he continued to revisit while promoting it in September 2019 podcast appearances.

When asked if her news outlet endorsed Gladwell’s views on Paterno, Centre Daily Times executive editor Jessica McAllister said, “As the leading news outlet in the community, we aim to create events where our readers and featured speakers can exchange ideas and discuss issues that are important to the community.”

We also contacted the Daily Collegian seeking comment.

Update 01/30/2020, 3:35pm: We updated the story with a comment from Centre Daily Times executive editor Jessica McAllister.