By Mara Wishingrad
In his article, “Penn State’s Tragedy Enabled By Coaches and Others Who Looked Away,” Forum director Thane Rosenbaum argues that the moral failures of Joe Paterno, Mike McQueary and Graham Spanier were aided by a “a lackluster legal system.” Because there is no legal duty to rescue, these men are immune from criminal punishment. In place of the traditional legal remedy of jail time, Paterno, McQueary and Spanier must instead face moral censure.
Does this form of punishment fit the crime? Perhaps.
Public shame is powerful and common form of extra-legal punishment. As Rosenbaum points out in his article, in situations where there are no formal legal consequences for a moral failure, “the community responds with its own harsh judgment and exacts a punishment of moral censure.” In some ways, moral censure may seem like a more powerful punishment than jail time. Jail time in the case of McQueary et al. would likely be finite, while moral censure will follow these men all their lives. Furthermore, with the aid of plea bargains and other such legal tactics, the Penn State trio might be able to mitigate or avoid their sentences. Public shame, on the other hand, is inescapable.
However, while moral censure may seem to be an appropriate remedy for moral failure, it may be an ineffective deterrent. Perhaps if there were an affirmative legal duty to rescue, McQueary et al. would have taken action to prevent Jerry Sandusky’s atrocious crimes. If this is true, Rosenbaum was correct to conclude that our legal system aided these men in their moral failure.