Friday, November 18, 2011

It's Salem, 1692 in Pennsylvania, as politicians line up to prove who's toughest on child abuse

Pittsburgh sports icon Franco Harris--he of "Immaculate Reception" fame--stepped aside temporarily as chairman of the Pittsburgh Promise, which provides college scholarships to graduates of Pittsburgh Public Schools, all because Franco defended his former coach and mentor, ex-Penn State University coach Joe Paterno, and Pittsburgh's Mayor Luke Ravenstahl  used Franco's comments to claim he has no regard for child sex abuse victims.

Franco Harris played football under Mr. Paterno in college. He is understandably loyal to the man who tutored him and who, until a couple of weeks ago, was as close to sainthood as the sports world produces. Franco said university trustees were wrong to fire the famed coach last week because Mr. Paterno did what he was legally required to do in 2002 by informing a superior about allegations that assistant coach Jerry Sandusky had sexually assaulted a boy in a campus shower.

We wrote a scathing piece on this blog last week, defending the decision to fire Paterno: "Joe Paterno -- not the PSU Board of Trustees -- is the author of his own discontent." And: "Joe Paterno was the trustee of little boys' dreams. He dishonored that trust, and now he has to pay for it."

Franco is entitled to his opinion. And as much as we disagree with that opinion, it furnishes not a scintilla of evidence that Franco condones child abuse.

But why inject rationality into the discussion when there's a good witch hunt to join?  In the wake of the Penn State scandal, every Pennsylvania politician is lining up to out-tough talk the next on child abuse. It is pandering at its most vile.

Mayor Ravenstahl's reaction to Franco's statement tops all the rest. It was so over-the-top, so divorced from reality, that an objective third party must seriously wonder if he doesn't have a screw loose. Read it for yourself:

"I had to re-read it several times to fully comprehend the callous disregard and indifference for the victims of sexual abuse at Penn State.  To so adamantly and vocally defend one man while maintaining silence for those powerless to defend themselves, shows me that you are the wrong man to represent the Pittsburgh Promise and the ideals it embodies. When I personally asked you to join the Board of the Pittsburgh Promise, I had every confidence that you would exercise sound judgment in your public life. Sadly, these statements show no regard whatsoever for the well-being of the young victims of sexual abuse and have led me to question your position of trust with the Pittsburgh Promise as Board Chairman. It is my ethical and moral responsibility to recognize that you are no longer a suitable representative for any organization, let alone ours."

Franco said he has attempted to "place the victims and their families at the forefront of my concerns while questioning the seeming rush to judgment in the treatment of Joe, who I know is deeply pained and distraught by events now under investigation at Penn State."

Pittsburgh sports writer Bob Smizik called on the mayor to apologize to Franco: "Labeling Harris as uncaring of the victims in the Penn State sexual-abuse scandal was a leap of logic only a fool would undertake. Harris is an honorable man who has done much good work in this region. He didn’t deserve that."  See here.  Mr. Smizik is right.

What Franco did was ill-advised.  But what Mayor Ravenstahl did was downright loony.

That's what happens in a witch hunt.