Malcolm Gladwell Faces Backlash For Saying Joe Paterno Statue Should Be Resurrected Despite Pedophilia Scandal

Author Malcolm Gladwell is facing criticism online after telling an audience at Penn State that the statue of the school's former football head coach Joe Paterno should be put back up, despite the program being involved in a child sex abuse scandal while he was coaching.

Speaking at an event at The State Theatre in State College, Pennsylvania to promote his latest book Talking to Strangers, Penn State's student newspaper, The Daily Collegian, reported that Gladwell's comments were met with applause.

"There is a reason why, when it comes to questions of whether someone is or isn't engaged in pedophilia, we rely on experts," Gladwell said, according to The Daily Collegian. "As far as I know, Joe Paterno never received such training."

Paterno was fired in 2011 after Penn State's board of trustees decided he did not act appropriately in 2002 when he was told about a suspected sexual assault by then-defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. The board also fired Paterno for questioning their authority following Sandusky's arrest on eight counts of sexual abuse. A 2012 report by former FBI director Louis Freeh found that Paterno, along with university president Grahm Spanier, vice president Gary Schultz, and athletic director Tim Curley "repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky's child abuse from the authorities, the Board of Trustees, the Penn State community, and the public at large," according to USA Today.

Gladwell says he thinks the statue of Joe Paterno should be put back up.

He’s met with applause from the crowd.

— The Daily Collegian (@DailyCollegian) January 30, 2020

Paterno was not convicted of any crime but criticized for not doing more than reporting the incident to his immediate supervisor. Paterno died shortly after his firing in January 2012.

Many Twitter users criticized Gladwell's comment. "Here is all you need to know about Malcolm Gladwell," one Twitter user wrote.

A Penn State alumni tweeted that she was "Not surprised. Just Disgusted."

Here is all you need to know about Malcolm Gladwell, speaking in State College PA tonight.

— Hester Blum (@HesterBlum) January 30, 2020

PSU alumna here:

Not surprised. Just disgusted.

— Steph Orme, Ph.D. (@stephanieorme) January 30, 2020

Gladwell is generally a thoughtful guy with measured opinions but he's applying to much critical thinking here. Devil's advocate doesn't need to be played all the damn time

— SP (@shampayne216) January 30, 2020

I've vocally believed for a while now that Malcolm Gladwell is nothing but an out of touch, self-congratulatory pseudo-intellectual. People should see his comments on the Sandra Bland case.

— Otsumami Boy (@ogbillybatson) January 30, 2020

Others noted Gladwell's inclusion in a New York Magzine article that listed him alongside other celebrities with connections to Jeffrey Epstein. The author flew on Epstein's private plane for a TED conference, a trip that was booked for him by TED. Gladwell said he was "slightly baffled as to who this Epstein guy was and why we were all on his plane."

Gladwell said he was unaware of who Epstein was and his sexual abuse at the time of the flight.

Didn't Malcolm Gladwell fly on Jeffrey Epstein's plane?

— Ted (@TedInPittsburgh) January 30, 2020

Not a coincidence he was on Epstein's plane huh?

— Conor Duffy (@CDuff3346) January 30, 2020

The Talking to Strangers author has defended Paterno multiple times, including in his most recent book. In a September 2019 interview on The World According to Zig podcast, Gladwell made similar remarks to those made at the event on Wednesday.

"There's no way Joe Paterno belongs in this conversation. He was told about the incident in the shower, and he immediately referred it to his superiors, as he is supposed to do," he told host John Ziegler. "Everyone should agree he was treated shamefully and that his good name needs to be restored." Gladwell also said that Penn State's leadership also should not have been treated the way they were.

Little Brown and Company, Gladwell's publisher, did not immediately respond to Newsweek's request for comment. Gladwell did not respond to attempts to contact him directly by publication time.

malcolm gladwell
Journalist Malcolm Gladwell speaks onstage during OZY FEST 2017 Presented By at Rumsey Playfield on July 22, 2017 in New York City. Bryan bedder/Getty