Penn State scandal: What would you have done? Are you sure? (Video Q&A)

Nov 09, 2011

Brad Hirschfield discussed the ethics surrounding the decisions made during the Penn State sex abuse scandal and more.

- Related: Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld: Paterno must go

Hello and welcome. Today's main topic is the scandal engulfing the Penn State football team and Coach Joe Paterno -- who announced today he will step down at the end of the season.



Many have criticized  Paterno and others at Penn State for not doing more in the past 13 years. But is it always that simple? What do you think you would have done? Are you sure?


We'll also talk about Herman Cain. Is this GOP presidential hopeful finished? Should he be? Why?


French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy "can't stand" Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, calling him "a liar." President Obama didn't object. Is this how allies talk about one another?

Joe Paterno is to blame in that as soon as it became clear that this was going on, he should have reported it and made sure it was stopped. It is incumbent upon all people who deal with young people to be vigilant about protection of them. It seems that the abuse taking place was hard to discern, but there is no excuse for looking away. There should be zero tolerance for abuse of children. What is there to debate here?

What would I do? I would have put the safety and well-being of that child ahead of devotion to a football program and the revenue it generates. I would have reported the incident to the police. Just like if I were the Apple Store employee who heard a woman pleading for someone to help her in the Lululemon store next door, I would have dialed 911.

From Twitter user @imlate:

Joe Paterno may have done the legal thing but was it was not the moral thing.

From Twitter user @1NationUnderWho, re: Penn State:

I think it depends on if you are a woman or man. Men are cowards when it comes to this stuff. Sorry boys, but it's true.

From Twitter user @DawnMGibson re: Penn State:

There's one ethical response to sex abuse. Adults must protect kids in care. Kid program part of image. Families trusted school.


Why are they letting Joe Paterno retire at the end of the season? He will still receive a pension. He needs to be fired. He's just as guilty.

In work situations, it is customary to follow what is considered protocol, which means that we report incidences to the next person in the hierarchy, and we don't go above him. It seems that's what Coach Paterno did; he directly reported it to his athletic director. So wasn't it the athletic director who should have done something with the information? Or is this ritual of protocol outdated?

Why didn't then-graduate assistant John McQueary stop the rape and call the campus police immediately? I am sure to beyond a reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty that that is what I would have done. Why aren't we focusing on this question?

Rabbi Hirschfeld: What would YOU have done, if you were Joe Paterno, and the event were reported to you?

What is with these powerful men who think they can do what they want, buy their way out, and pretend that nothing happened? We have seen this time and time again. Is it just hubris?

Herman Cain's second accuser now seems to have a track record of yelling sexual abuse. Apparently she had the same problem in her next job. For good or bad, like Dominique Strauss-Kahn's hotel housekeeper, she loses her credibility. But that doesn't mean it didn't happen.

Is the problem that Nicolas Sarkozy feels this way about Benjamin Netanyahu, or that he got caught? I'm sure this probably happens all the time but the microphones are not on. The question is, where do they go from here? It's like Wikileaks, they will no doubt walk around the embarrassing disclosure and go back to politics as usual.

Last question: In a perfect world, allies would not speak about each other this way. But does it really matter how they all feel about one another? It would be nice if they all got along, but what's important is that they work together for the benefits of their countries and society as a whole.

In This Chat
Brad Hirschfield
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is an author, radio and TV talk show host, and President of CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. His On Faith blog, For God's Sake, explores the uses and abuses of religion in politics and pop culture. He wrote "You Don't Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism." Named as one of the nation's 50 most influential rabbis in Newsweek, and one of the top 30 "Preachers and Teachers" by, he is the creator of the popular series, Building Bridges, airing on Bridges TV, and co-host of the weekly radio show, Hirschfield and Kula: Intelligent Talk Radio. For more information see
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