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What Do Joe Paterno, Herman Cain and Dominique Strauss-Kahn Have in Common?

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They were all punished and their lives disrupted based solely upon allegations of wrongdoing. Dominique Strauss-Kahn lost his high position at IMF and his bid to run for the presidency of France. Herman Cain was forced to withdraw from his campaign for President of the United States. Joe Paterno was fired from a position he had held for years serving with the respect of the entire nation. I do not defend their conduct if they are guilty of the charges against them. I do not claim that they are innocent, but there is something fundamentally wrong when mere allegations can drive persons from seeking or retaining positions of importance -- or any position for that matter.

Think about it. Each one of these men has suffered severe damage to their lives and reputations without ever having been found guilty of anything. I suspect, as I imagine most people do, that each may be guilty of something, but shouldn't the punishment follow a finding of guilt -- rather than precede it? I have taken this position consistently in prior articles in respect to Strauss-Kahn and Herman Cain, and the response usually has been that they are guilty! Comments point to Strauss-Kahn's past history of womanizing, the number of complaints against Herman Cain, and the football culture that dominates Penn State. But the point is we don't know whether or not they are guilty.

To me the worst example is Joe Paterno. Strauss-Kahn and Herman Cain took voluntary actions obviously influenced, coerced and intimidated by the media attacks upon them. But Joe Paterno's termination was imposed upon him. He wished to conclude his final year of coaching. The media reported that he was informed by a graduate assistant, Mike McQuaery that he had witnessed coach Jerry Sandusky engaged in horrible sexual conduct with a young boy. Paterno was fired purportedly for his failure to take appropriate action as a result.

Now stories have dribbled out that the assistant's account has differed. We don't know what happened. We don't know what Paterno was told or what he repeated. But he was fired nonetheless. Stories have abounded about the culture of football and its importance, and that this alleged horrendous conduct was covered-up in order to protect the program. That all may be true, but Joe Paterno and his family have been punished without a hearing, without a trial, without a modicum of fairness or due process, and all this was done in the name of public relations.

I have always taken the position that actions should be taken and well-founded charges publicized when the failure to do so poses a risk to the public. If Jerry Sandusky were still employed by Penn State, his suspension (even based upon these allegations alone) would have been appropriate and necessary in order to protect other young boys. But Joe Paterno's continued employment posed no such danger. It may turn out that he failed to do what he should have done, but there was no harm to anyone in waiting for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth to emerge. His continued employment hurt no one. It just looked bad, and that is hardly reason enough to end a legend's career in disgrace at age 84, after 62 years of employment.