I have 2 credits from Penn State. During summer 1990, I attended a summer computing institute for high school students. To acquire dorm housing, one had to be an enrolled student. The people in charge made up a course; I’m pretty sure I received an A. Until I finish this semester at Georgia, Penn State is the only BCS school for which I have credits.
I’ve never been abused, sexually or otherwise. I’ve dealt with sexual abuse consequences, tangentially and centrally. Tangentially, my childhood priest from western Pennsylvania, Father Elwood Figurelle, went to jail for child porn. In 2005, sexual troubles became more central. While I was graduate fellowship leader at U. Chicago Catholic campus ministry, we had a sudden pastor change. A past incident of adult sexual misconduct resurfaced, and Father Mike Yakaitis resigned. Six years ago, I wrote an emotionally raw page about the situation. As part of the UC situation, I agreed to comment upon a draft video from the SNAP network. In the video, victims told their sexual abuse stories and detailed personal consequences. Yes, it was thoroughly miserable.
The current Penn State situation is tangential to my life. It appears that former Penn State defensive coordinator Gerry Sandusky engaged in sexual acts with underage boys. Almost all the cited acts occurred after he was asked to resign from coaching.
Penn State has been known for a well run football program. It helped improve the school’s image. It has no NCAA violations and good graduation rates. Coach Joe Paterno had just become the leader in Division I victories. After donating multiple million dollars for a LIBRARY, he was likely to retire a well celebrated role model. Now that won’t happen. In 2002, he received an abuse report about Mr. Sandusky from an assistant coach. Mr. Paterno fulfilled the legal requirement by promptly informing his supervisor. The supervisors failed in their duty by not conducting a thorough investigation. They, not Mr. Paterno, face potential criminal liability.
At my current school, for cases of sexual violence Mr. Paterno did what I am told to do: Inform my supervisor and/or the Non-Discrimination/Anti-Harassment Officer. I am not told to notify the police, though I am for things like bomb threats. Let’s say I didn’t have past experience with sexual abuse cases. Why should I believe I need to do more? Why should I not trust the people who wrote the guidelines?
Anyway, as I write at 2:30 PM on Remembrance Day, we know Mr. Paterno took no further steps, no moral actions. Seizing the opportunity to sully someone while feeling self-righteous, media vultures pounced. Thanks to cable and American’s desire for sport, we now have sports “reporters”. They desire to be like “real news”, so any time something sounds remotely like a non-sports story it becomes overblown. It embarrasses me that I once watched sports reporting shows. Now, I use sports talk as my radio alarm, because it’s so annoying that I wake up quickly. It works better than Mexican mariachi bands.
After pondering for an hour Tuesday night, instead of doing algebra, I realize my sorrow follows from seeing the Virgin-Whore reaction. In Freudian psychoanalysis, men view women in a simple dichotomy. A female can only be saintly or debased, not a complex organism with positive and negative qualities. Mr. Paterno and the Penn State program had the Virgin reputation, particularly after the 1987 Fiesta Bowl against Miami for the top poll ranking. Now, apparently the talking heads need to feel better by making him a Whore.
People label this the worst scandal in the history of college sports. It is bad. Let’s compare. Last decade, there was a murder coverup at Baylor. Last year, the Notre Dame football program asked a student assistant to film practice from a scissor lift during high winds. That day, he tweeted “Gusts of wind up to 60 mph today will be fun at work … I guess I’ve lived long enough.” The lift toppled, killing him.
- Notre Dame: The football coach had direct responsibility, committed an illegal act of neglect, and someone died.
- Penn State: The football coach did not have direct responsibility, committed the correct legal act, and nobody died, even though child sexual abuse is extremely bad.
At Notre Dame, no one was disciplined and the university paid merely a $42,000 fine. The university even fought to have the fine reduced. Coach Brian Kelly received no rush of calls for his dismissal.
Mr. Paterno never was the idealized Madonna. People were naive. Mr. Paterno was in college sports, and as the Atlantic Monthly explained, somewhat corrupt by definition. Failing to act doesn’t make him the Whore now. It makes him a person who has done many virtuous acts, and now a disgraceful one. He is mixed, like almost all of us.
Once the university trustees took the craven act of firing, over 1000 students protested. They have been condemned, assuming the students cared only about football. That’s not true. Read carefully. The students condemned Mr. Sandusky. They criticized their trustees for cowardice and overturned news vans. This is not putting football first. It’s realizing who acted without dignity, as opposed to those who just failed. As an actual reporter noted, “There was an overwhelming sense from many people who believed the media and the nation were making this entire scandal all about Paterno. Not Sandusky, the real villain in this whole tragic mess.”
The students are correct. We must seek justice against those like Mr. Sandusky who exploited young children. Our system should investigate legal responsibility. Also, we are allowed to speak about moral failings, in a balanced way. When we start enforcing moral codes to make us feel better, we’ve progressed to a very dangerous situation.
Will the sports “reporters” donate the extra money from higher ratings to victim support charities? Will they volunteer with organizations that seek to reduce partner and sexual abuse? I’ll believe it when I see it. Maybe, if we’re lucky, a few people will fulfill moral duty by checking on a suspicious situation, and end a few sins. Most likely, though, we will just have more Freudian screaming.