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The New Moderate Attempts to Digest the Penn State Scandal

November 15, 2011

One of the most illustrious “brands” in American college football abruptly imploded last week, taking with it a university president and a fabled coach who will never again enjoy the cheers of multitudes. That much is sad enough. We’ve also heard that the lives of at least nine boys (or former boys) have been ransacked and polluted, possibly beyond repair. If the accounts are true, the man who perpetrated the assaults is a fiend of the lowest order. (You don’t hear the word “fiend” bandied about much these days; I think we should use it more often.)

In the days since the awful story broke like a gargantuan ten-year-old egg spewing its putrid contents across the national consciousness, I’ve had some time to think about the lessons to be drawn from it. Of course, nobody loves a writer who promises paragraph after paragraph of moral edification. Instead of writing a treatise, I’ve distilled my thoughts into a dozen brief reflections on the scandal that stopped America in its tracks.

1. A lifetime of greatness can be nullified by a single mistake. Joe Paterno spent more than 60 years building his legacy at Penn State, 46 of them as the beloved head coach of a legendary football program. I’ve always found it tragic that a lifetime of effort can be undone by a single lapse, and the case of  “JoePa” is no exception. By all accounts a decent and down-to-earth man who transformed countless lives for the better, Paterno was adhering to university dictates when he informed his boss about the alleged sexual assault by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Yes, he should have delved into the details, confronted Sandusky in person and made sure he would never harm a child again. That would have been the ideal response… and who among us can say why he let the opportunity slip away? Instead, JoePa’s  buck-passing cost him his job and his aura of greatness — a sad, inglorious finale to an otherwise glorious career.

2. Did Paterno really deserve to be fired? Wouldn’t a slap on the wrist have sufficed? At the very least, shouldn’t he have been entitled to a hearing? At first I thought the university went overboard when it abruptly sacked him (over the phone, no less). Paterno didn’t witness a crime, after all. He heard about it second-hand from a graduate assistant (more about him later). How could he have called the police on the basis of hearsay? But Paterno may have known more than we’ve been led to believe, and the university felt that a thorough housecleaning was in order. The final solution was quick, deadly and probably the most effective way for Penn State to cleanse its image as quickly as possible. The brand had to be protected, even though that brand was built by the man they fired.

3. I can understand why Penn State students rioted. Penn State is more than a football school these days… over the past half century PSU has steadily climbed in the national rankings for academic quality. But football — and the gobs of money it generated — had a lot to do with that newfound academic lustre. Penn State students honestly believed that a deity with an Italian surname was living in their midst. When the university canned him so ignominiously, it was as if their own father had been carted off by the cops. Skeptics would suggest that college students shouldn’t live and breathe football, but try telling that to the faithful in Happy Valley.

4. Left-leaning critics had a field day bashing Penn State. Twitter was full of snide references to those ghastly Penn State students who rioted in the wake of Paterno’s dismissal. “Just the level of intelligence you’d expect from students admitted to Penn State,” one of them sniffed. To those rarefied souls, Penn State represents everything they revile: rowdy, drunken, muscleheaded warriors whose  crude energy mysteriously propels them to success in the business world. For blue-staters, PSU is a classic red-state university. I wonder when well-educated progressives will realize that their snootiness has driven a third of America into the clutches of right-wing populists like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.

5. Powerful conservative institutions generally deny wrongdoing. Like the Vatican, Wall Street and (to a somewhat lesser degree) Congress, the Penn State football program was a powerful entity intent on perpetuating that power at all costs. Tightly run, male-dominated organizations like these tend to become more and more conservative and inflexible over time. Success breeds defensiveness and even blindness to wrongdoing. All threats to the system must be deflected; no internal flaws can be acknowledged. Such organizations exist in a state of perpetual denial, and Penn State’s football program was true to form.

6. Nearly all the offenders in contemporary sex scandals (and even financial scandals) are men. Most of them are oversexed males drunk with power and testosterone. Clinton, Schwarzenegger, John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner… what they all have in common is a personal tool that won’t stay put. The few women who make tabloid headlines tend to be Hollywood nymphets or the occasional schoolteacher who entertains a horny adolescent. What is it about men today? Laggards in school… stupid in public conduct… pathologically reckless on Wall Street… I’m almost ashamed to admit I belong to their tribe. Scientists say the Y chromosome is gradually deteriorating over time, but the descent seems to be steeper and quicker than anyone would have expected. Whatever happened to character, honor, courage and other archaic male mantras from the Age of Chivalry?

7. Mike McQueary needs to be held accountable. He’s the former graduate assistant who allegedly witnessed Sandusky raping a ten-year-old boy in a Penn State shower and did nothing to stop the assault. I can understand a failure of nerve when walking in on a horror being perpetrated by one’s superior… he was probably dumbstruck. But all he had to do was clear his throat to make his presence known, say a few words to break up the assault (a naked middle-aged Sandusky in the shower couldn’t have posed much of a threat to the 6’2″ former quarterback), then yank the poor boy out of there and call the cops. Sandusky’s reign of terror would have ended in 2002 instead of 2011. Instead, a skittish McQueary bolted out of the shower room and waited until the next day to tell Coach Paterno. JoePa was fired; McQueary is simply on leave. Of course, it’s easy to be a Monday-morning quarterback… but a real quarterback would have acted more decisively.

8. What can we do about pedophiles? I don’t mean pedophiles who have committed crimes; that’s easy: we prosecute them and take them off the street. I mean people who are sexually attracted to children and find themselves tempted to consummate their wayward passion. Most of them probably have little or no control over their orientation. So do we force them to undergo therapy? (And would therapy make any difference?) Do we isolate them from society? Castrate them? Load them with drugs? Give them computer-animated kiddie porn to defuse their urges as harmlessly as possible? Whatever the means, we have to work on controling pedophilia before the pedophiles can act.

9. Pedophiles are spoiling it for men who simply enjoy being with kids. Children (most of them, anyway) are charming little people, and their companionship can be a tonic for world-weary souls. Helping young people grow and laugh and flourish also happens to be one of life’s most rewarding pursuits. Now, with pedophilia in the headlines, any man who consorts with kids for any reason is likely to be viewed with suspicion. And that’s a tragedy, because children need positive male role models outside the home. Do we ban all one-on-one contact between kids and their leaders? I’m afraid it might come to that, for everyone’s peace of mind.

Suspect Jerry Sandusky: did he love boys a little too much?

10. It helps to have friends in high places. Just ask Sandusky, who’s out on the street proclaiming his innocence (aside from a little “horseplay.”) The judge who let him go free on $100,000 bail was a volunteer with Sandusky’s Second Mile youth program.

11. The worst of it: Penn State simply told Sandusky to take his act elsewhere. When Joe Paterno’s higher-ups at Penn State heard the report of Sandusky’s brutal misconduct in the shower, did they call the police? Of course not. Did they at least notify the parents of the boys in Second Mile that their leader was up to no good? Try again. They ordered him to stop bringing boys to campus! In other words, they essentially advised him that he was free to indulge his unholy urges anywhere else. What were they thinking? Was their loyalty to Paterno’s onetime heir-apparent so steadfast that they simply winked at his extracurricular activities? Were they afraid that an arrest would tarnish the brand? More afraid of a little bad publicity than they were fearful for the safety of Jerry’s boys? This is the same “see no evil” policy that prompted so many Roman Catholic bishops to ship their wayward priests to other parishes… as if a change of scene might cure them. It doesn’t. It simply enables them to find new victims in new settings.

12. Money has become WAY too important in college football. I know, I know… if the schools can make all those megabucks from lucrative TV contracts and the like, what right do we have to stop them? It’s probably too late to stuff this musclebound genie back into its bottle, but I’d still like to see colleges (and Congress, for that matter) distance themselves from Big Money. The heavenly scent of dollars in the air has driven college football to some boneheaded decisions. Examples: Boise State just joined the Big East conference, while the core of the old conference (Syracuse, Pitt, West Virginia) jumped ship for other destinations. The “Big Ten” conference now numbers 12 schools, while the “Big 12” actually has ten.  Rutgers, the birthplace of college football and my own alma mater, recently renamed its playing field High Point Solutions Stadium. (Is everything for sale?) Money has cheapened college football and swelled its head at the same time. What does all this have to do with the mess at Penn State? Simply that the stakes have become prohibitively high, and nobody is willing to risk all that glorious loot to save a bunch of innocent children from hell on earth.

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53 Comments leave one →
  1. Rob Anderson permalink
    November 15, 2011 7:45 pm

    Here’s a notion: Sandusky is innocent. That’s right, INNOCENT. I’d like to remind you of the McMartin Preschool Case here in California. Does anyone besides that one former quarterback know that Sandusky was buggering little boys? I don’t know; neither do you. I bring this up only to make a point. In our system suspects are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, not the other way around. And his bail sounds about right. Would you have him incarcerated until and during trial? That sounds a lot like the Napoleon Code to me, and I don’t want it here, although it alread exists for poor people.

    You fail to point out that the root of the problem with Penn State is the Win, Win, Win! culture of the United States. THAT is what protected Sandusky, if he is actually guilty, not the wealth of the university and its sports program. Unless, of course, you’re suggesting that Sandusky spread some benjamins around to shut people up. Then you’d have a point. No, our nation has become a Roman colloseum of depravity, and this case is true it will be Exhibit A in proving so.

  2. November 15, 2011 8:02 pm

    Rob: You raise perfectly valid points. Yes, the burden of proof is on the prosecution. And if the case against Sandusky depended on McQueary’s eyewitness testimony alone, it would crumple if McQueary was lying. But if you’ve read the Grand Jury report, you know there are numerous references to oral sex and other criminal behavior with about eight other boys.

    I do agree that the country has essentially convicted Sandusky before the trial, which is wrong. I might have been a little too accepting of the evidence at hand. We’ll have to see what kind of additional evidence comes forward at the trial.

    As for the Penn State hierarchy and its obsession with winning… you make another good point. It’s more than about the money, though I think money has corrupted college sports to the core. For that matter, it’s corrupted our entire country to the core, and it will probably be our undoing.

  3. November 15, 2011 9:12 pm

    i have a question: what happened to bring this all up at this time?

    • November 15, 2011 9:39 pm

      Roberta: A grand jury recently charged Sandusky with about 40 counts of abuse. The report was pretty graphic and it was made public, so the media (and the Penn State trustees) went to town.

  4. Richard F. Belloff, DBA permalink
    November 15, 2011 9:12 pm

    I will suggest that we don’t know much of what has happened in this series of events spanning back to 1999. Therefore, passing judgement on anyone is candidly, rather sillty. We will likely have to wait 5 years to actually know with any certainty what has gone on behind the scenes.

    I would think that if Penn St fired Paterno and their president, this was much worse than we now know.

    • November 15, 2011 9:45 pm

      Richard: Right… all we know at this point is what was in the grand jury report. McQueary’s eyewitness account sounds pretty convincing… but we’re assuming he’s telling the truth. Who knows… Sandusky might have done little more than horse around inappropriately, or he might be a wanton pedophile. Should be an interesting trial. I wonder if Paterno will survive the ordeal.

  5. AMAC permalink
    November 16, 2011 12:30 am

    It is difficult in situations like these not to pass judgement. Sexually motivated crimes are very shocking to our society and myself included. I am, but you don’t have to be a parent to be disgusted by these situations. When men and women that work with children and young adults don’t have the youth’s best interests at heart, it can be so frustrating. The Pennsylvania laws dealing with reporting abuse differ from my states, but education training is fairly consistant from most colleges. State laws are taught, but reporting to authorities is made clear. Of course you run it up the flag pole, but if you witness or hear of abusive activity, you are responsible. Telling your boss does not encompass your responsibility. If you don’t personally contact child protective services, police, etc; you are certainly required (ethically) to follow up to ensure the authorities have been notified. As an ex-football player, coach, and son of a coach, I have always looked up to JoPa (having never met him). If what is being released is true, and he simply contacted his AD, I am disappointed. Patterno was supposed to represent how to do things the right way. Our society certainly seems to be in short supply of positive role models.

    • Michael Ejercito permalink
      November 16, 2011 2:34 am

      Reporting hearsay is a bad idea, and there certainly is no moral duty to do so. In itself, refusing to report hearsay is neither illegal nor immoral.

      • November 16, 2011 4:03 pm

        AMAC and Michael: Paterno shouldn’t have called the police based on what he heard from McQueary, because that WAS hearsay. But he obviously could have done more. We don’t know if he hesitated out of loyalty to his old assistant coach, or not wanting to dirty his hands with a matter unrelated to Penn State football, or some other reason known only to him. I just hope he didn’t actively cover up for Sandusky. I guess we’ll find out more at the trial.

      • Michael Ejercito permalink
        November 16, 2011 10:15 pm

        What he could have done specifically (without inadvertently tipping Sandusky to any ongoing investigation) was to flat out tell McQueary, when he was being considered for an assistant coach, to either report the truth to the police or apologize to Sandusky for slander.

        (The reason for that choice of words is that it would avoid explicitly telling McQueary to accuse Sandusky of rape. Had things gone wrong in the investigation and there was a slander suit, Paterno could have claimed he told McQueary to tell the truth.)

      • AMAC permalink
        November 19, 2011 2:21 am

        Michael,
        You don’t think there is a moral obligation to report to the authorities based on an eye witness account of a crime against a minor?

      • Michael Ejercito permalink
        November 19, 2011 2:33 am

        Yes, such a moral obligation exists. McQueary failed, and Paterno condoned that failure.

  6. AMAC permalink
    November 16, 2011 12:31 am

    Also, it is currently being reported that McQuery did contact law enforcment. It will be very interesting to find out more on this. I would be interested to see where the breakdown occured.

    • November 16, 2011 4:04 pm

      Yes, I heard that this morning. At least that’s what he said in an e-mail to a friend, contradicting what he told the grand jury. (Why would he have made himself look more culpable in front of a grand jury? Who knows?)

  7. AMAC permalink
    November 16, 2011 12:37 am

    As for the big money in College football:
    It is hard to argue that these colleges don’t corrupt themselves, somewhat, over the money. I do think that it is important to point out that the profits from football don’t stay in the realm of athletics. The Big 10 (or 12 now) for instance, is one of the more prestigous academic conferences in the US. Large amounts of the funding for their academic endeavors come from football and basketball. Most of the other sports lose money, so obviously football is the primary concern over the other sports. I hope that the school is dealt with harshly to possibly prevent cover ups like this from happening in the future. Losing scholarships and bowl-bans aren’t going to cut it this time.

    • November 16, 2011 4:11 pm

      Interesting that the academic reputations of Penn State, Notre Dame, USC, Texas and several other big football schools have risen steadily since I was in college. That football money helps the schools upgrade themselves by hiring big-name professors, offering scholarships to top students and other enhancements. The best football coaches routinely earn more than the university president, which is kind of a sad commentary on American education today.

      • AMAC permalink
        November 19, 2011 12:19 pm

        I agree that it is a sad statement about our country in general. I think for a long time in this country, we have valued celebrities above academics. The people motivated to better humanity are seriously undervalued. Fortunately for all of us, these types are internally motivated to continue the “good fight” regardless of reward (financial or otherwise). Just my observation, but I would say that is has been a good 200 years since society fairly valued the academics of the day. Men like Newton, Pierre de Fermat, Guass, etc. were once celebrities for their academic contributions to society. Do you think many Americans even know of the breakthrough work Fernando Ferroni and other physicists have made over the last 18 months.

  8. Michael Ejercito permalink
    November 16, 2011 2:33 am

    For JoePa to confront Sandusky in person would have been a grave mistake. Sandusky would have just denied the allegations, or might have even went underground, a real possibility considering the type of crime.

    He should have confronted McQueary, plainly telling him to either report the crime to the police or apologize to Sandusky for making such a slanderous accusation. This would have put mcQueary into the hot seat, forcing him to double down on this claim by making a sworn statement. Instead, Paterno approved of McQueary being hired to the full-time staff, someone who, to the best of Paterno’s knowledge, either failed to report a child rape committed on Penn State grounds, or slandered a well-respected person. In that, JoPa dropped the ball big time.

    • November 16, 2011 4:16 pm

      Interesting argument… McQueary looks bad either way. And now that his e-mail has contradicted his grand jury testimony, he’s losing credibility fast. I still think Paterno should have talked to Sandusky himself. He could have started with a simple “Jerry, what’s this I hear about you showering with boys?” just to see his response. Sure, Sandusky could have denied it or gone underground, but that’s what he did anyway.

      • Anonymous permalink
        November 16, 2011 10:12 pm

        True, but confronting Sandusky himself would have impeded any investigation.

  9. Priscilla permalink
    November 16, 2011 10:50 am

    Re # 9: I have a friend, late 40’s, happily married, no kids, who was a great HS baseball player in his youth. Several years ago, he volunteered to coach a little league team in his town, went through all of the necessary trainings and screenings, got a team and was really enjoying the opportunity to pass along his baseball knowledge to a new generation. Until a couple of the parents of kids on his team began questioning him very closely about his motivation for being involved with youth sports, despite being childless himself. It was clear to him that they were very suspicious and fearful that he might be a pedophile. He was careful never to be alone with any of the kids, really just saw them on the field, but the concerns persisted, and these particular parents began expressing their doubts to other parents on the team. My friend became so uncomfortable and embarrassed by all of this that he quit coaching after that season.

    It’s a shame in a lot of ways….coaching in many youth sports programs now is dominated by parents of kids in the program, often leading to favoritism and fighting between sports parents living vicariously through their kids (not to mention plain old bad coaching). But the risk of being perceived as a pervert has driven away a lot of non-parent volunteers….

    • November 16, 2011 4:33 pm

      Priscilla: It really is a shame that a man’s good intentions can be tarnished because of all the hysteria about pedophilia. I guess I’d be a little suspicious of an outsider myself simply because of what we’ve come to expect. The key is to avoid one-on-one contact, so there’s really nothing to be concerned about when a guy is coaching a group of kids, as long as he doesn’t see them individually (or shower with them!).

      I feel sorry for those volunteers. I even find myself feeling sorry for men who are attracted to kids and are conscientious enough not to act on their impulses. What are they supposed to do if they’re born that way? It has to be a hellish life. You’d think somebody would have developed a pill by now.

      • Rob Anderson permalink
        November 16, 2011 5:00 pm

        Just a general note, I will not date a woman who runs a day care center. That has been my rule since the early 90s, when I first heard about the McMartin Pre-School case and its final disposition.

  10. Kevin permalink
    November 16, 2011 11:46 am

    The news story broke in Harrisburg in March of this year. Why was there no coverage until the grand jury presentment was issued? Who controlled the timing of the release of the grand jury report. How angry is/was Gov. Corbett at Spannier and PSU over the public budget battle in the spring? Is there anyone involved in this entire sordid matter that does not have a personal or political axe to grind?

    Kevin

    • November 16, 2011 4:44 pm

      Kevin: The odd time lag adds a new wrinkle to the story. I wonder why nobody in the media saw fit to cover it back in March. Maybe it had to do with the racy nature of the grand jury report, which was just released. Interesting that they released it just as JoePa moved into the top spot for career wins. I also heard that Paterno signed his house over to his wife this past summer, so he probably suspected that everything would be hitting the fan this fall.

  11. Paul Gallanda permalink
    November 16, 2011 3:34 pm

    I can understand why PSU students rioted in the wake of the Paterno firing. I also understand completely the revulsion at the sight of them tearing up the campus and torching property in reaction to the firing — without a scintilla of sympathy / empathy for the alleged victims.

    I’m with you, Rick, when you say that some of the commentary about the riot has been high-handed and condescending; the “snoot factor” is off the charts. I guess we can chalk that up to human nature — the need to feel superior at the expense of one’s “lessers.” Me, I’ll find it in my heart to be more charitable when students are just as outraged over the firing of an esteemed physics or history professor in the same predicament.

    I find it interesting, too, that ALL the news reports listed Paterno the Coach before Spanier the President in recounting the firings. Which pretty much indicates how PSU is perceived outside of Happy Valley, and which might also be a reflection of how PSU perceives itself.

    And here’s a mind-boggling (to me, at least) footnote: Joseph Amendola, Sandusky’s defense attorney, impregnated a 16-year-old girl when he was 49 years old. Say what?!?

    • November 16, 2011 4:54 pm

      Well said, Paul. (You’re even more fair and balanced than I am.) True, the victims seemed to get lost amid all the fireworks surrounding Paterno’s exit. JoePa was a bona fide idol at Penn State and a major celebrity beyond it. (Who had ever heard of Graham Spanier… not to mention the various outstanding scholars at Penn State?)

      One of my favorite movies as a kid was “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” which takes place in the late 19th century. In the final scene, the professor who went underground is met by a cheering throng of students who sing “Hail to the prof of geology, master of all natural history!” Imagine if great college professors (and writers, of course) were accorded the same adulation as sports heroes. At one time they probably were.

  12. Pat Riot permalink
    November 16, 2011 9:46 pm

    People are passing judgement because even without all the details there’s enough info out there already to know something is rotten: a 2-year investigation found enough to put him in handcuffs, and the fiend’s own words about soaping up and hugging in the shower–enough said: there’s no good reason to soap up someone else’s kid in a shower. It might be different if there was only one incident–then it might be hearsay or interpretation. We already know there’s wrongdoing; eventually we’ll find out the extent and many of the people involved in the cover-up (s).

    Damn, I’m tired of all the bad news these days! Can we have some wholesomeness back in this country, PLEASE!!!!

    • November 16, 2011 10:58 pm

      Pat: There are so many accusations of deviant behavior in this case that some of them have to stick. But of course we still can’t assume guilt. Even so, I’d say the odds of Sandusky being innocent are about the same as a chicken attempting to fly nonstop across the Atlantic. In other words, practically nil. And yes, I wish this Pottersville nightmare would end so we could wake up in Bedford Falls again.

      • Pat Riot permalink
        November 17, 2011 9:10 am

        Rick, Yes, it could be a Wonderful Life, and we know it, and that makes this Pottersville nightmare so FRUSTRATING and often DEMORALIZING, doesn’t it? ! The last few years watching that great old motion picture with family and friends I jump up off the couch during the Pottersville tour de force and gesture frantically at the TV and decry, “this is where we’re at! this is where we’re at!” but too many people think it’s just a movie !

        Glad you’re out there, Rick!

  13. November 16, 2011 9:58 pm

    I do not understand why this is purportedly a red state/blue state issue. Pennsylvania is decidedly purple. Further, for those of us who live here, Penn State is on the left not right. It is a State College after all. I could once again go on a riff over government failures – but this type of failure could occur most anywhere.

    I question why college footbal – particularly the massive, all encompassing big money institution that is at places like Penn State has anything to do with education. I am not opposed to football, just questioning why what is essentially a highly commercial venture is a part of colleges – particularly public colleges like Penn State.

    I would join with Rob in noting that we have only one side of this and not even all of that, so it is a bit early to be making judgements.

    Sexual abuse is heinous – particularly of children. But we should note that just as there are many instances of abuse that go unpunished there are also myriads of false accusations. Few parts of our legal system are as problematic. We completely lose our objectivity when children are involved.

    I am not familiar with all the details of the Sandusky case, but to the extent I am I question sacking Paterno. As best as I can tell he did precisely what he was obligated to do – and even what he morally should have with a report about an incident he did not witness. We do not want every tom dick and harry conducting their own private investigations. way colleges conduct (or supress) investigations – any offence beyond honours violations and misdemeanour’s should be handled by real police. I do not entirely trust them either, but that is another issue.

    There are many unanswered moral questions – but none that seem to apply to Paterno .
    It is possible that Paterno knew more than has been reported – but neither we nor the college should be making judgements based on what we think he might have known.

    For the most part the moral failings seem to be elsewhere. And that raises the last issue, legal and moral are and should be different. The law imposes primarily negative obligations on us – “thou shalt not”, and that is as it should be. Government has no business telling us what we should or must do. But morality imposes positive burdens on us. We are right to ask if someone could not have done more. The opprobrium of society should fall strongly on many involved in this matter – but government should stick to law.

    I strongly expect that the results of this will be more positive law, converting moral obligations into legal ones.

    Finally I would note that Penn State has one more distinguished personage in the news – though less so more Recently – Prof. Michael Mann.

  14. November 17, 2011 1:43 am

    Dave: Yes, Pennsylvania is technically a purple state, but it has been described as “Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, with Alabama in between.” Penn State is smack-dab in the “Alabama” portion of the state, and most blue-staters would regard it as a quintessential jock school, closer in spirit to Ohio State than to the University of Pennsylvania. Its academic reputation has been climbing, but I don’t think its critics are aware of that.

    Penn State reportedly rakes in $70 million a year from football — quite a haul. The money (at least in part) helps buy big-name professors to enhance the school’s reputation. The big question (and you raised it) is whether colleges really should be running these quasi-professional sports programs. Back in my day (I sound like a Civil War veteran), colleges used actual college students on their athletic teams. They were amateurs in the best sense. Today most of the athletes are recruited from ghettos, showered with perks and otherwise treated like royalty for four years, then left to find a niche in pro sports or sink back into the ghetto. It’s a bad system, but on the plus side you could say that it gives opportunities to underprivileged kids who otherwise would never see the inside of a college campus.

    As for Paterno… yes, he did what he was required to do. For all we know, he might have had a face-to-face talk with Sandusky (we’ll find out more during the trial). You make an astute distinction between legal and moral obligations. You’re right that we can’t legislate the moral end of the equation, but we can alter the laws so that they approach real morality. From what I’ve been reading, there will soon be stricter laws regulating the reporting of child abuse… laws that will compel witnesses to take more decisive action.

    • November 17, 2011 12:00 pm

      Penn State does not come close to running a profit as a result of football. Believe me our taxes make a significant contribution to the cost of operating Penn State. PA like much of the nation has experienced budget problems for years. With practically every new budget – both democratic and republican, a bit more has been asked from students and teachers attending the state colleges – usually followed by significant protest.

      The Nickname for parts of Pennsylvania is “PennsylTucky”, and yest Pittsburgh and Philadelphia – like most urban areas in the country lean left. But I you think Penn State is part of the rural Alabama part of Pennsylvania rather than the urban New York portion you are mistaken. I am not intimately familiar with Ohio State or Penn States reputation outside Pennsylvania, Penn State has 19 campuses state wide – that is separate from the dozen or so other Pennsylvaina publicly owned colleges and universities. More Recently Penn State swallowed Dickenson Law School whole. Since I was a child they have had a number of well respected programs. I spent two years in the 70’s at GaTech and was preparing to transfer to Penn State when other opportunities took me to Renselaer Polytechnical institute. While Penn State has some rabid football fans, It is no more a jock school than Ga Tech of University of Georgia.

      Altering laws to enforce morality is a big mistake.
      First this is the most multi-cultural nation in the world – we do not share identical moral perspectives.
      Second, morality is a positive inducement to act, government and law is supposed to be negative. The priest and levite in the good Samaritan violated no laws, they broke a moral code. Our obligations to help others are moral obligations, not legal ones.
      Imposing positive legal obligations is far more difficult than negative ones. The basic principle of not harming others that is supposed to underly our negative law is pretty easy to understand, the argument that “ignorance of the law is no excuse” is fundimentally based on the understanding that actively harming others is always both wrong and illegal. One not grasp the details of the law to know that. Positive obligations and morality are far more difficult. When exactly are we required to stop whatever we are doing disrupt our own lives and intervene ? The Law is not supposed to impose such and obligation on us, nor judge us legally with regard to those types of decisions. We have a legal duty not to harm others, not a legal duty to aide others.
      I will concede that in the modern era we have weakened many of those distinctions – but that has been a mistake, and further imposing positive obligations will not improve things.

      We are free as a society – and we rightly should excoriate those who did not live up to our moral standards. We are free to publicly rebuke them – and we should, but as much difficulty as we have defining bright lines in negative law, positive law is far worse. Worse such laws often have myriads of unintended consequences.

      This all came to light because witnesses told someone what they saw. They did not do what they should have, but they did do something. Impose a positive obligation and the easiest response is to walk away silent. The law can not successfully compel you to do something – when no one but you knows what you saw. And that is just a single flaw. Ultimately imposing positive obligations on individuals suffers from all the same problems imposing positive obligations on government does – and more.

      Last you contradict yourself “we can alter the laws so that they approach real morality” is the definition of legislating morality. You can’t have both. Worse still when you start down that road (and we are already pretty far down that road), you have abdicated any legitimate objection you have to those who hold a different morality imposing theirs.

      We are a complex society, we do not have a strong shared universal set of moral standards. This is an asset in comparison to much of the world. The Nazi’s were moral actors by their own terms, as were the Hutu’s, Al Qeda, ……. The most evil things done by man are done in the name of some higher morality.

      If we can mandate what one must do in one moral sphere, we can do so in others. We can compel the sterilisation of the mentally retarded, we can force abortions – or we can ban them. Regardless of the issue, the majority of us can impose their moral view on the rest regardless of what that view is.

  15. Priscilla permalink
    November 17, 2011 8:50 am

    The appropriate wording is “Back in my day,sonny….”

    • November 18, 2011 1:39 pm

      You won’t believe it, Priscilla, but that’s how I actually worded it before I thought better of it.

  16. Richard F. Belloff, DBA permalink
    November 17, 2011 9:13 am

    I just completed “harrassment training” at my University. We were told over and over again that we were to report any observed harrassment. We were also told that we had to report any incident that we heard about (hearsay). We were specifically told that we were NOT to act on anything and that the U. officer in charge of these issues would take over.

    That is the official line here at my U. The buck apparently is able to be handed off?

    • November 17, 2011 12:27 pm

      Sounds like precisely what Paterno did – based on what we know at this time moment.

    • November 18, 2011 1:40 pm

      Ain’t bureaucracy grand?

  17. Pat Riot permalink
    November 17, 2011 9:18 am

    Back in the day…the alleged perpetrator (I don’t like to glorify their names like our media machine does) would’ve been dealt with severely by any eyewitnesses and the world wouldn’t have had to hear about him for months and months, ad naseum. Too many Americans have become passive watchers of life instead of active do-ers. Get in an accident and see people just go around you. Some old-school ways ARE better. A toast to doing!

    • November 17, 2011 12:31 pm

      More likely back in the day it would have been ignored. While we see more reporting of events like this today and somehow beleive things have gotten worse, we are safer – including our kids today than ever before.

      Though I would agree that merely saying “what the hell is going on here” when walking in on something like this would likely have ended it. At the minimum it would have done so for the victim du jour.

      But for the most part “Bacck in the day” things were no better, and probably worse than today.

      • Pat Riot permalink
        November 17, 2011 7:53 pm

        Dhli, I don’t know where you grew up, but I grew up in a very idyllic blue-collar neighborhood in Philadelphia, 1962 through let’s say 1979, where we knew all the neighbors and very little was ignored.

        Once in a while someone would get out of line and they got warned. As a minor example if someone let their postage stamp of a front lawn get a bit unkempt, a few neighbors would knock on their door and remind them, very politely at first.

        We kids could wander much of the city, taking the trolly or bus to “faraway lands” on alll day adventures, without worry of harm.. Our parents just wanted us back by dinner. It was a different culture, the tail end of Bedford Falls gradually morphing into Potterville.

        Some objects/things are better now, and some are not, but the culture doesn’t even compare. I’m trying to stay on topic regarding childhood and saftey. If we’re going to debate whether American culture is worse now and the streets more dangerous (you are a brave black Knight if you will try to claim that our American culture has not largely eroded) we should use that other area that Rick created…

      • November 18, 2011 7:24 pm

        For certain aspects of crime and child safety we have to be very careful about statistics – we are far more aware of issues related to children, as well as “sex” crimes. Reporting rates – though still low, have been increasing throughout my lifetime. At the same time the overall rate of sexual assault has dropped 60% since 1993. State laws, have gotten far broader – in some states you become a registered sex offender if you are convicted of public urination, punishments greater, as will imposing additional requirements such as lifetime registration.

        “Back in the good old days” when we were children, this stuff was not reported almost at all, and almost no one was caught convicted or punished.

        There are myriads of other complexities, but I beleive it is pretty well accepted that while “sex crimes” particularly those involving children, get far more attention today than in the past, they are less prevalent.

        On a separate related note, all crimes have declined over the past 40 years. They have declined to almost unheard of rates never before seen in history. The have continued to decline even through economically difficult times.

        As the Black Knight I will not argue that everything is better than it was 40 years ago. There are plenty of things from the past to miss. Many of the things you miss from your childhood, as an example. We are both safer than we were 40 years ago, and more fearful. Then we would have politely asked a neighbour to mow their lawn, possibly even helping, today we pass ordinances and have our neighbours cited.

        There have been significant studies on the effects of building codes, zoning ordinances, public housing and public architecture on our culture, the net effect has been negative. Substituting laws for relationships deprives us of relationships. Further – just like federal regulation of commerce, local regulation of our communities has myriads of unintended side effects – rarely positive.

        Essentially we do not live in a more dangerous world where are neighbours are to be feared – but we chose to live as if we do, to the detriment of our quality of life.

      • AMAC permalink
        November 20, 2011 3:12 pm

        Dhlii
        I agree that we are actually safer. I don’t think we choose to live in fear, I would call it a heightened sense of awareness. I don’t mean to say that our parents and their’s before them were naive or irresponsible, just not as aware and educated on the dangers that exist. With our generation of media coverage, there is a lot more exposure to situations most thought much less likely to exist. We now actually have a somewhat adequate system of monitoring offenders and excluding them from “authorized” contact with children which did not exist in their time either. In short, I completely agree we are safer and think we will continue to refine the laws and oversight to become even safer.

  18. Pat Riot permalink
    November 17, 2011 9:22 am

    I have a comfy Penn State hooded sweatshirt I recently chose not to wear. Ijust didn’t feel like being associated with it all day. Wow, actions do really have far-reaching consequences.

    • Pat Riot permalink
      November 19, 2011 3:04 pm

      Dhli, I actually think you are..correct above.
      Even though comparing/contrasting present and past is a tricky exercise because aspects being considered don’t occur in isolation but rather in context, I think what you say above about safer but more fearful is mostly true, although I think the reality can often depend very much on specific locations, yes? Therefore, in decent locals in America, whether rural, suburban, or urban, people are statistically safer and yet living in greater fear (for a number of reasons, including the mass media machinery and “fantasy factories” (Hollywood) being so omnipresent in our lives, and also because of the designs of our living spaces, as you allude to, etc.—that’s a topic in itself, and other reasons…)

      Yet, on the other hand, don’t you agree that at the same time there is a rapidly increasing number of dangerous, depressed “forgotten zones” in America where industry has been gone, merchants are gone, and civility is eroding frighteningly toward a new barbarism, places where unemployment and crime are not only rampant but they are occurring in pockets where there is essentially no community to counterbalance the wrongdoing and the perpetrators are increasingly devoid of any …not conscience exactly, got culture exactly, not Goodness exactly…let’s call it devoid of “Bedford Falls training” These pockets are Potterville heading toward Mad Max, really, unless changes are made. There’s one area in Phila I visit occasionally where a Philly cop is now stationed inside the litter-surrounded, graffiti-decorated little convenience store. A few years earlier when I went to hand in a neighborhood petition at the police station there were two young fearless delinquents destroying property INSIDE the police station!

      Specifically in regard to sex crimes I’d say you’re definitely correct in that it’s reported more AND prosecuted more these days, as opposed to being hushed up within organizations, though we’re obviously still seeing that behavior. It’s good to see statistics that sex crime instances are down, though I’m forever wary of statistics. I saw a national company win the J.D. Powers and Associates Award for Excellence in Service, in no small way due to the fact that they threw away much of the bad feedback and reported the good feedback. This goes on all over, unfortunately. (Also see Michael Wheeler’s “Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics).

  19. Ian Robertson permalink
    November 17, 2011 1:37 pm

    An old college football joke that is relevant here:

    The President and AD of a midwestern college with a hugely successful football program called the head coach of the team into the presidents office to discuss funding violations.

    After getting chewed out for a minute the coach loses his temper.

    “You can take a Flying F*** at the moon!” he tells the AD.

    “And you can shit in your hat” he adds to the President as he storms out of the room.

    The President turns to the AD and says

    “Well, I can always get a new hat. But you, you have a REAL sexual problem on your hands.”

  20. Anonymous permalink
    November 17, 2011 3:27 pm

    While I admit that there something bad happened at the football club, I a am still baffled by the childish name of the “football” given to this game. They don’t play with a ball (balls are round and it looks more like an ellipse full of air), and they rarely play it with the foot.

    99% of the game on TV is just advertising and… uh… OK, now I understand! The popularity of football is down and there was a begging for attention…

  21. AMAC permalink
    November 19, 2011 2:52 am

    I will add that in my state, we have a legal obligation to report abuse and signs of abuse to the authorities (CPS, Police). I am not positive, but I believe these laws also apply to the state’s public colleges. I think it would be wise for PA to adopt similar laws. Telling your boss is not enough. McQuery should have done more, and Paterno certainly should have done more. And yes, when minor’s are concerned, there should be a legal obligation to report (at minimum) to the LEGAL authorities, not the administrative authorities.

  22. AMAC permalink
    November 19, 2011 2:59 am

    I would also like to add that I don’t see a problem with recruiting football players from the “ghetto”. These children deserve the same opportunity to better themselves with an education. We see and hear about the bad stories that make the sport look badly, but what about the thousands that play at the sub-bowl level and D2 level. They recieve scholarships to play with little hope of pro careers. For every story we call typical of college football, we could find 2 or 3 great stories, but these don’t get ratings. I was looked at as a dumb jock once, but recieved a 4.0 with a major in mathematics and a minor in education. We have to remember for every drafted collegiate athlete, there are 100 non professionals.

  23. Pat Riot permalink
    November 19, 2011 3:00 pm

    AMAC, so very true about the good stories that don’t get the ratings.

    • AMAC permalink
      November 20, 2011 3:19 pm

      Yes, but that won’t get ratings! I understand the frustration with football players and other athletes getting preferential treatment in an educational institution, but is it any different than getting preferential treatment because of having a well connected family? Also, I did find a 2009 average graduation rates for football players from the D1 BCS conferences. There are a lot of success stories in these percentages.

      1. ACC……..72.3
      2. Big East…67.4
      3. Big Ten….66
      4. Big 12…..63.2
      5. Pac-10…..61.3
      6. SEC………60.5

    • December 25, 2012 8:40 am

      Katie,I am sorry for the pain you’ve endured and the onngiog pressure people are putting on you. You do not need to find closure to heal. I would, however, encourage you not to give up so quickly on forgiveness. Don’t stop reading! I’m not suggesting you need to forgive for anyone other than yourself. It is wrong for people to make you feel bad because you are not forgiving someone. What I want you to consider is that forgiving another person does not condone the harmful behavior nor bring any obligation to reconcile. Forgiveness does not mean you need to trust the person again or even talk to the person for that matter. If a person did want to reconcile, than forgiveness is a major first step, but not the only thing needed. But, again, forgiveness does not have to include reconciliation. Forgiveness allows you to let go of anger in order to be able to heal more. It is giving up the desire to take revenge on another, which frees you to live more fully. This is not the same as the misguided idea of closure. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you will forget the pain. Forgiving someone is a process that can take a long time. It is your process, though, and not those around you. Sometimes it takes years to forgive and it is maybe not always a process we complete. That doesn’t make you worth less. But forgiveness is too precious to give up on it completely. Still, keep it separate from the notion of closure.

  24. Pat Riot permalink
    November 19, 2011 3:08 pm

    dhli, I ag..ag…agreed with you above (5 posts up in response to you 7 posts up).

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