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The saint and the sociopath

[ 115 ] July 13, 2012 |

33 years ago Joe Paterno had the poor judgment to remark in front of a reporter at a social gathering that he couldn’t retire from college football, because doing so would leave the game in the hands of coaches like Jackie Sherrill and Barry Switzer. Paterno meant that Sherrill and Switzer were willing to break NCAA recruiting rules in order to win football games.

As long ago as 1979, Paterno was already a sanctimonious windbag, who appeared to believe the nonsense he peddled so successfully to the ever-credulous media about how Penn State football was, in his words, a “Grand Experiment” — an island of old-fashioned virtues in the sordid sea of big-time college football, where doing things the right way while building moral character and molding tomorrow’s leaders took precedence over the won-loss record.

And even as recently as this January, if you believe his family and his lawyers, Paterno took the time to compose an op-ed about the glories of the Grand Experiment. Remarkably enough this piece wasn’t made public until the week Penn State’s independent investigation into the football program’s child rape scandal was scheduled for release.

This nauseating text exhibits a combination of complete moral blindness with something like a perfectly tone-deaf approach to public relations. We now know that Paterno, along with other high university officials, spent at least thirteen years carefully covering up and enabling Jerry Sandusky’s ongoing serial rape of an untold number of young boys, and that he lied about his role in all this while testifying under oath to the grand jury that indicted Sandusky.

Having played an integral part in enabling an atrocious series of crimes, and on the verge of having the extent of his participation in the cover-up of those crimes exposed, Paterno still could not stop himself from continuing to hold up the Penn State football program as an example to which others should aspire.

One lesson to take from this disgusting and horrifying spectacle is a very old one, taught by among others the religion whose services Paterno is said to have attended regularly. It is that spiritual pride is a far more deadly and dangerous sin than the sort of ordinary greed and dishonesty that Paterno believed coaches such as Sherrill and Switzer exemplified.

A man who breaks some rules in order to win a few more football games is likely to understand himself to be nothing more exalted than a hustler on the make. By contrast, a man who talks himself into believing that he is running a uniquely virtuous Grand Experiment, rather than just another successful college football program that mostly avoids the most egregious forms of cheating, is far more likely to develop the delusion that he’s some sort of role model for his peers, or even a quasi-spiritual leader of our youth.

Paterno fell so completely into this frame of mind that it seems he found it impossible to face up to the consequences of revealing that the Grand Experiment had ended up shielding and indeed enabling a predatory pedophile. Unable to handle the truth, Paterno spent more than a decade engaging in behavior a hundred times worse than anything Sherrill or Switzer were ever accused of doing. The legendary coach used the power derived from the cult of personality he had allowed to grow up around him to shield Jerry Sandusky from the legal process, which in turn allowed Sandusky to continue raping young boys.

In the end Paterno was so detached from the reality of what he and his program had become that, even as the carefully constructed façade of the Grand Experiment was crumbling all around him, he continued to present himself as something like a secular saint amid the fallen world of college football. It turns out the saint was indistinguishable from a sociopath.

Comments (115)

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  1. actor212 says:

    Unsurprisingly, Paul, I both agree with and went one step further than you.

    • Visitor says:

      Glad I read that. If you read this, mebbe go back and swap your “to flout” for a “to flaunt”, which I think is what you’re going for?

      Peace.

      • actor212 says:

        Nah. “Flaunt” might be more grammatical but given the outcome, “flout” (e.g. to treat with contemptuous disregard) maybe more lyrical. But thanks for the note and reading it.

        • ajay says:

          But JoePa went to great lengths to flout his sense of right: he would bench players who weren’t making it academically, for instance. He rubbed the collective noses of Penn State fans and alumni in his self-righteousness.

          In the context, “flaunt” is definitely correct and “flout” is wrong.

        • Visitor says:

          Hey, thanks for the reply-comment, and you’re the poet of your blog, so it’s your license, right? or so i figger.

    • Furious Jorge says:

      Yeah, good post, actor212.

  2. Corey says:

    Paterno didn’t write that op-ed. Actual Public Relations Professionals did.

    Think about that for a second.

  3. Sherm says:

    Very well said. He always was a sanctimonious windbag.

    I hope the NCAA has the guts to give them the death penalty, but I doubt that they will. Its not as if some university booster gave an envelope of cash to some impoverished kid whose labor is being exploited. I assume that you would settle for the closing of the Dickinson School of Law.

    • Cody says:

      No rich people were hurt in this incident (except for the President and such of Penn State – but it’s their own fault!). Thus, you can expect very little backlash against Penn State from the government or NCAA.

    • greylocks says:

      I think the NCAA Death Penalty should be reserved for cases where actual football athletes benefited directly from widespread and repeated rules violations.

      Killing the PSU football program would simply punish a lot of student athletes who had nothing at all to do with this. Yes, their scholarships were paid for with money raised during the cover-up, but it’s not like NCAA athletes get rich off these deals.

      I do think the program needs to be put on probation for five years and closely monitored, because as Rick Reilly pointed out, any credibility Paterno had about running a clean program is now in ashes. Anyone who was involved at all in the program under Paterno needs to go. I think that would be adequate.

      • Furious Jorge says:

        I think the NCAA Death Penalty should be reserved for cases where actual football athletes benefited directly from widespread and repeated rules violations.

        Why?

        The university benefitted financially – in a massive way – by covering up truly horrific crimes for more than a decade. The people involved were the head football coach, the AD, and the president of the university. The original crime was committed by the football team’s defensive coordinator.

        But you’re right, players getting paid to play football is sooooooooooooooo much more serious than that. No lack of institutional control here, no sirrrr-eeeeeee.

        Killing the PSU football program would simply punish a lot of student athletes who had nothing at all to do with this.

        So fucking what? It would do the same goddamn thing in the situation you say should be the only context in which the death penalty is applied.

        Do you see how backward your thinking is?

  4. If you replace a few names and dates, this reads like a parable about the United States.

  5. Jonny Scrum-half says:

    I was a big fan of PSU football and Paterno, and I’m still finding it difficult to square my lifelong rooting interest with the undeniable facts of this case.

    What especially puzzles me is the “logic” — or lack thereof — on the part of Paterno and the other high-level and presumably intelligent administrators who failed to take appropriate action. I don’t see why the crimes of one coach — even a high-profile one like Sandusky — would somehow endanger the legacy of the “Grand Experiment.”

    To use a hypothetical, I’m sure that if Sandusky had been discovered in 1998-2001 to have engaged in a pattern of stealing from alumni, the PSU community no doubt would have fired him and turned him over to the police. I’m even thinking that if the facts were the same as they currently stand, with the only difference that Sandusky was engaging in rape of young girls rather than young boys, he probably would have been turned-in by Paterno et al.

    For the life of me I can’t understand what it was about Sandusky’s crimes that caused these people to turn a blind eye to them.

    • Monday Night Frotteur says:

      They didn’t care about the victims at all. There’s no evidence that these Molders of Men lost one wink of sleep over the decision to facilitate child rape. They didn’t even try to find out who the victims were and what their status was.

      They didn’t give a flying fuck about anybody but themselves.

    • TT says:

      I’m sure psychologists have studied this ad nauseam, but certain actors within any institution–religious, educational, government, business, military–will often go to astounding lengths to suppress evidence of profound wrong. In fact, it seems that the more terrible the wrong, the stronger the desire to bury it becomes. The belief that the wrong in question is so powerful it could destroy the institution to which the actors have dedicated their lives and loyalty is probably the primary motivation for this kind of behavior. However, the effect of this willful suppression and feigned institutional ignorance is one of steadily escalating pressure, so that when–not if–the wrong is revealed to the world, the pipe can no longer hold the steam, and the explosion is that much worse.

    • Sherm says:

      Here’s how I see it:

      They learn in 1998 that Sandusky might be a pedophile, but since there was no prosecution they decided to avoid a minor embarrassment and to brush the allegations under the rug and to allow him to resign “voluntarily” and to let him stick around campus as an honored ex-coach.

      Then they learn in 2001 that he is in fact a pedophile. Having failed to take the allegations seriously in 1998 and having thus permitted him to hang around the campus under false pretenses, they now face a major embarrassment which could cost them all their jobs. If they had reported him in 2001 and there was a subsequent prosecution of Sandusky for child molestation, they would have faced questions concerning their ill-advised decision to let him stick around campus after 1998. They likely would have been fired for letting him use the football program after 1998 to harvest victims and rape boys. Paterno was particularly vulnerable at this time because the football team was not so good. They decided to engage in a cover up to save their own assess, with the hope that Sandusky wouldn’t rape again and that McQueary (whom they subsequently promoted) would keep his mouth shut. The 2001 e-mails stating that they will be in trouble if the subject (Sandusky) doesn’t get the message support this theory.

      • Royko says:

        I see it similarly to how Sherm does. 2002 had to be covered up because of 1998. Why was 1998 brushed aside? Maybe they didn’t really believe the allegations. Maybe they foolishly thought forced retirement would be enough to stop Sandusky. Maybe they thought it was the most appropriate response given the lack of criminal charges. Or maybe their had been rumors before ’98 that were ignored, and once again, once covered up they had to keep covering up, even as allegations escalated.

        Still, the decision not to go public in ’98 was (aside from incredibly immoral and dangerous) mind-bogglingly stupid.

        So maybe it was as Paul suggests: Sandusky was too much a cornerstone of the Great Experiment, and his crimes were so awful and so disturbing that Paterno, et al would simply not allow them to be publicly associated with their hallowed program. Whatever needed to be done to hide the fact that their football nirvana housed a demon was done.

        It’s that scenario that scares me more. I can understand a string of increasingly bad decisions leading to a situation where they felt they had to keep doing the wrong thing to avoid implicating themselves. But the idea that it was more important to protect the image of a football program than the safety of children — that’s just a level of demented that I can’t fathom.

        • Visitor says:

          Maybe they thought it was the most appropriate response given the lack of criminal charges.

          This sounds very likely as their rationale (in 98) for dropping things and possibly telling themselves oh-it-was-nothing. But after 2001…

          just a level of demented that I can’t fathom.

          Jaw-shattering levels of criminal indifference. Spanier’s –yes– perverted use of “humane” in his email is burned into my brain now, can’t be bleached out…

          The young men who stood on the witness stand are [pick a large number] times the man/adult/etc that any of the four administrators are/were.

        • commie atheist says:

          According to the grand jury report, the first allegations of Sandusky’s “innapropriate conduct” were in 1994. This is not mentioned in the Freeh report. What is mentioned is that Sandusky was told he would not succeed Paterno as coach BEFORE the 1998 incident and allegations. They did, however offer him a job as assistant AD.

          http://lowermoreland.patch.com/articles/freeh-timeline-of-sandusky-investigation-penn-state-actions-dd933980

        • Desert Rat says:

          There’s only one flaw with this scenario.

          They could have put a stop to it with minimal embarrassment. When Sandusky retired in 1999, make it clear to him that he no longer has access to Penn State facilities for the use of his charity.

          They didn’t have to let him use Penn State facilities after 1999. They certainly, based on the 1998 allegations, could have put a stop to his work with young boys on campus. If they do that, this ceases to become a Penn State story, and becomes merely a Sandusky story.

          Worth noting, that the incident that triggered the grand jury investigation (and then uncovered the Penn State connection) was the result of an assault away from Penn State’s facilities. In this litigious day and age, they could have justified it for any number of reasons.

          As Royko points out more or less, the flaw with this scenario, and indeed all of the others, is that it would have taken far more moral courage than any of the four exhibited.

      • actor212 says:

        OK, and I would point out that for the others like Spanier involved in the cover-up, this logic is, for want of a better word, sound.

        But not for Paterno, someone who wore a mantle of “caring.” How he lets Sandusky remain on campus in any capacity is beyond ken.

        Kick the bastard off. If anyone needs an explanation, tell them to ask Sandusky. If Sandusky fibs, fine. Go with it.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        Paterno was particularly vulnerable at this time because the football team was not so good.

        Paul was good on this in one of his first posts. The fact that in 2002 Paterno should have been relieved of his duties on the merits was probably a major factor here.

        • John Protevi says:

          On the merits, sure, but who was going to do this “relieving” of which you speak?

          Spanier and Curley went, hats in hands, to Paterno’s house in 2004 asking him to retire. His response concluded with a wish that the door not make too much of an impact with them upon their exit.

          So it would have had to have been the Board. But they had checked out long ago. Would the revelation of “poor judgment” (as I’m sure it would have been spun) have been enough for them to fire Paterno in 2002? I doubt it.

          Now I can see the motivation of Spanier and Curley. The Board could have fired them in 2002. But Paterno? I’m not sure.

          • John Protevi says:

            This I think makes Paterno worse, let me add, as it was just reputation at this point, not even his job, if that makes sense.

          • Sherm says:

            The Board would have had no problem firing them all at that time for embarrassing and exposing the university to liability by keeping a suspected pedophile around. Just because Paterno had the power to kick his co-conspirators out of his house in 2004, doesn’t mean he held any power over the Board of Trustees in 2002, when his team was losing and he was far from reaching the NCAAA win record.

              • Desert Rat says:

                I think the Board’s role in this is hardly a shining example of oversight. In fact, I’d suggest, based on a read of the Freeh report, that anybody still on the Board from prior to November 2011 should consider tendering their resignation.

                My read of the Freeh report gave me memories of Enron, MCI, and a few other companies that went belly up a few years ago where the board was way too cozy with their CEO.

                The board of trustees was way too deferential to Spanier on this throughout, even in 2011. They didn’t exercise oversight. They didn’t demand answers, and there’s little evidence even last year until the very end, that they pressed Spanier for more info. A more active board pressing for independent oversight more quickly might very well have saved Penn State some embarrassment. As far as I’m concerned, they’re almost as culpable as Spanier in this.

    • Vir Modestus says:

      This is what people mean when they say that we live in a rape culture. Any male rapist, especially one who is powerful, or “important” or known, is more important than whomever he might rape. “I can’t believe he’d do that!” And so they then do everything they can to hide the fact that the man did, in fact, “do that.”

  6. Halloween Jack says:

    While I generally agree with what you said, Paul, I’d quibble with the assertion that the letter “exhibits a combination of complete moral blindness with something like a perfectly tone-deaf approach to public relations.” I don’t think that Paterno was at all blind to the moral and ethical implications of what he was doing; indeed, your more successful sociopaths are quite aware of the amorality of their actions and take great pains to cover it up. And although his reputation has had huge holes blasted in it, there are still people that want to believe, or at least are still insisting, that this cancer can be neatly trimmed away from the Nittany Lions and hasn’t metastasized, which is what he’s trying to assert.

    No, I think that Paterno did learn a lesson from his church, although not the one that you mention; this is, after all, the church which had and continues to have its own child sexual abuse scandal, one which dwarfs the Penn State scandal in every conceivable way, and which extends to the highest ranks of the church leadership. You will always have your true believers which will double down on that faith because of, not in spite of, evidence of evil on the part of their leaders.

    • Tehanu says:

      What Paul is saying, if I read this right, is that the whole idea of being a great moral model for the rest of college football is what Paterno et al. took as their justification for the coverup.

    • actor212 says:

      At some level, I suspect there isn’t a Catholic alive today who didn’t suspect or at least in his cups imagine there was something slightly icky about young boys being so intimately involved with human adult males.

      Most would deny it, to be sure, but as the story unfolded, most would have been wrong. However, on some subconscious level, the same mechanism that allowed these people to blindly follow a church without even asking if it was safe for those boys is the same mechanism at work in covering up the Sandusky tragedy.

      • Karate Bearfighter says:

        When I was growing up Catholic back in the ’80s, we used to tell jokes about priests and pedophilia all the time. I think you’re absolutely right that on some level, we all knew on some level that there was a huge problem. What is amazing in retrospect is what an open secret it was.

        • Medrawt says:

          I asked my dad (born in ’55) about this, whether there was anything he was aware of growing up in terms of suspicion of priests. (His mom had wanted to send him to a Catholic summer camp where, it became public decades later, some boys had been molested by the priests on staff, but he didn’t go.) After some thought he said that he was pretty sure there were one or two priests his parents didn’t want him alone with because his parents had a sense that they were gay, but as far as he knew any particular suspicion of the priesthood was subordinated to being uncomfortable about leaving gay men alone with boys, and wouldn’t have been directed by his parents or people like them towards priests who didn’t have an apparently gay affect.

          • Karate Bearfighter says:

            particular suspicion of the priesthood was subordinated to being uncomfortable about leaving gay men alone with boys

            This is an interesting point. Certainly, the stereotype we joked about was of a closeted gay man who molested boys, where the reality is that (IIRC) many more girls were actually victimized by Catholic priests.

            What I still find striking is how widely accepted that stereotype was. No one I grew up with told comparable jokes about any other class or profession, but the priest jokes were omnipresent. I also can’t recall any particular suspicion being directed at other adult men with an apparently gay affect, (although your dad may have just been more perceptive.)

            • Medrawt says:

              I think my dad would say that both he and, in a different way, his parents, were naive. (He went to a Catholic high school, and most of his memories specific to the state of the Church are about post-Vatican II stuff and the way the younger members of the clergy were dealing with the counterculture; one year they came back from summer vacation and [Priest X] and [Nun Y] had left the cloth and gotten married.) I’m also assuming that you’re somewhere in the middle between my dad (born ’55) and me (born ’82) in age, which probably represents the shifting awareness of this stuff. I don’t remember when I became aware of public accusations against the priesthood (and I grew up in MA, so Cardinal Law was the backyard), but it was before I was old enough to be aware of rumors and jokes on a secretive topic like that.

    • DocAmazing says:

      It’s worth remembering that the Catholic Church and its saints have a long history of moral flexibility. It was, after all, Saint Ignatius Loyola who coined the phrase “the end justifies the means”.

  7. bradp says:

    It is that spiritual pride is a far more deadly and dangerous sin than the sort of ordinary greed and dishonesty that Paterno believed coaches such as Sherrill and Switzer exemplified.

    That’s a libertarian argument right there.

    • Jeremy says:

      No, it’s not. It’s a common sense argument that exists in various cultures. Don’t try to tack on your libertarianism where it doesn’t apply.

      • bradp says:

        Liberals and conservatives are absolutely enthralled by the “spiritual pride” parades we call elections.

        Hell, that’s what liberalism and conservatism has devolved into: throwing all your resources behind the most spiritually pure of the available candidates.

        • witless chum says:

          Personally, I’m voting the guy who I think its going to do more stuff that I like. But I can’t speak for everyone.

          • bradp says:

            That’s fairly indistinguishable from voting for the candidate you feel is morally better, unless the things you want don’t are morally wrong.

            • Hogan says:

              It’s easily distinguishable, since what stuff I can get is independent of any personal characteristics in a candidate.

              Libertarians, of course, are people for whom no candidate is ever spiritually pure enough.

              • bradp says:

                It’s easily distinguishable, since what stuff I can get is independent of any personal characteristics in a candidate.

                Explain.

                Libertarians, of course, are people for whom no candidate is ever spiritually pure enough.

                Hey, what can you do in a market for lemons?

                • Hogan says:

                  Put it this way: the political virtues and the moral virtues overlap only very slightly. When I’m choosing a candidate, I’m looking for policy congeniality and political virtues. Extreme violations of the moral virtues might change my mind, but not, e.g., the fact that Bill Clinton is a thirty-third degree horndog.

                  At heart I’m a Machiavellian. Politicians have to know when and how to do wrong; otherwise they’re useless.

        • Furious Jorge says:

          A libertarian lecturing other people about this sort of “spiritual pride” and the need for purity is really, really hilarious.

          • bradp says:

            I’m not saying anything about spiritual pride alone, I’m talking about choosing leaders based on displays of spiritual pride.

            If you believe this:

            It is that spiritual pride is a far more deadly and dangerous sin than the sort of ordinary greed and dishonesty that Paterno believed coaches such as Sherrill and Switzer exemplified.

            IAW, if you believe the known hustler is less dangerous than self-aggrandizing saint, then you should be a libertarian.

        • wengler says:

          I really don’t think that’s how the Republicans chose their nominee.

          • bradp says:

            Well yeah, fear of the opponent’s evil outweighed love for one’s own candidates virtue on both sides for this election cycle.

            But by god do they love the spiritual icon of Reagan.

            • NonyNony says:

              Ron Fucking Paul brad.

              Libertarians are by no means immune to the cult of personality. It’s a human psychology thing, not a fucking ideological thing.

              • bradp says:

                Ron Fucking Paul brad.

                Libertarians are by no means immune to the cult of personality. It’s a human psychology thing, not a fucking ideological thing.

                Of course, but libertarian ideology takes power out of the hands of the guy exploiting the psychological thing.

    • Furious Jorge says:

      In what possible way is this a libertarian argument?

      • bradp says:

        Let’s change a couple phrases:

        A man who breaks some rules in order to win a few more football games make more money is likely to understand himself to be nothing more exalted than a hustler on the make. By contrast, a man who talks himself into believing that he is running a uniquely virtuous Grand Experiment, rather than just another successful college football program businessman that mostly avoids the most egregious forms of cheating, is far more likely to develop the delusion that he’s some sort of role model for his peers, or even a quasi-spiritual leader of our youth.

        • David M. Nieporent says:

          “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” – C.S. Lewis

    • Malaclypse says:

      Brad, if you don’t want people to think you are a troll, don’t sidetrack every thread into a discussion of libertarianism.

    • I used to be a liberal, but after it became clear that Paterno covered up child rape I now believe in the absolute sanctity of contract and property rights.

  8. Brian says:

    It’s too simplistic to label Paterno a sociopath, and characterize his efforts to run a clean football program as mere hypocrisy. The fact is that Paterno did try to run a clean program, and hundreds of people who knew him say he made their lives better. This makes it all the more striking that he was so completely blind and uncaring when it came to the children whose lives were being devastated by Sandusky’s crimes.

    Sound familiar? It’s strikingly similar to the situation of Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston, under whose administration so many pedophile priests were allowed to victimize children for years. Law had been chancellor of the diocese of Jackson, MS in the 60′s, and had been a staunch advocate of civil rights at a time when that was highly unpopular and even personally dangerous. Law received death threats, but perservered.

    So how could a man who was willing to risk his personal safety for human rights be so criminally (and I use the word advisedly–he should have gone to jail) uncaring about the rights and well-being of children under his spiritual leadership? One answer, it seems to me, is institutional loyalty. Powerful men who have devoted years to an institution all too often prove willing to do anything, to condone crimes and even commit them, to protect their institutions.

    Ironically, in the case of both the Church and Penn State, far more harm was done to the institutions by the cover-ups than could possibly have been done by immediate exposure and prompt action. So Law and Paterno lost their reputations (and even their souls, if you happen to share their beliefs), and accomplished nothing. That’s not sociopathy, it’s Greek tragedy.

    • Sherm says:

      Except that the loss of reputation suffered by Law and Paterno was anything but tragic. They were not the victims of the tragedy, but the perpetrators. The tragedy is that these pieces of shit thought that protecting their reputations and their beloved institutions was more important than protecting young boys from rape.

      • actor212 says:

        I think Brian uses “tragedy” in a literary sesne here. In Greek theatre, tragedies were where the hero failed to accomplish his goal or learn a lesson, while a comedy had a happy ending. The comedy may not even have been funny, just upbeat.

        • Sherm says:

          But in a greek tragedy there should be a connection between the misfortune suffered by the protagonist and his original heroic acts. Here, there is none. Law’s cover up unrelated to his involvement with the civil rights movement. Paterno’s cover up unrelated to his effort to insure that his athletes obtained an education.

          • Brian says:

            Sherm, my point was that if men like Paterno and Law are merely sociopathic criminals, their stories don’t teach us anything. To say that a sociopath doesn’t empathize with other people is like saying a lion eats other animals–it’s just his nature. But Law and Paterno showed in their lives that they could empathize, that they were capable of doing good. So why did they fail so spectacularly to protect innocent children when they had the chance and obligation to do so? That’s a question worth exploring, and may teach us lessons worth learning.

            In classical tragedy, the hero is a man with many good qualities, who is destroyed by a tragic flaw. Law and Paterno had some good qualities, but were destroyed by a tragic flaw, which I have suggested was some sort of misguided institutional loyalty. Can institutions and society learn something from this?

            • Sherm says:

              No problem, and I appreciate your point. I just have a problem with using the word “tragedy” to describe what happened to Paterno. The real tragedy is what happened to the victims.

              • Cody says:

                I think there is plenty of tragedy to go around here.

              • John says:

                What happened to the victims actually is not, in the literary sense, a tragedy at all. It’s only a tragedy in the broader, derivative sense of the word. While the broader usage is of course fine, it seems ridiculous to use the broader usage as a way to argue that someone shouldn’t use the narrower, original meaning of the word.

                • Vir Modestus says:

                  What happened to the victims actually is not, in the literary sense, a tragedy at all.

                  Nope. What happened to them was a CRIME.

                  What happened to Paterno was … um, nothing? He’s dead. He may have had a couple of uncomfortable weeks where he realized that he might not be remembered fondly by everyone forever. Ah, I weep at the horror of his fate.

            • Bruce Baugh says:

              I don’t think their stories do teach us anything we didn’t already know from much less drastic tutors. I think that’s a big part of the problem: what went wrong is, in essence, a perfectly familiar and basically boring kind of evil, one that people can and should deal with straightforwardly but don’t for stupid reasons.

      • No, no, no. The point here goes to core Catholic beliefs. Both Law and Paterno believed that the sin was an act of free will, and that the sinner was capable of changing the sinful habit and making a good contrition. They overlooked the “render unto Caeser” part in favor of the idea that one should not judge the acts of others, but instead endeavor to encourage the sinner away from the sinful acts. Is this badly flawed thinking? Well, sure, but it is consistent with the religious teachings that informed both men’s acts.

        • Brian says:

          I would agree with you, Bill, that Catholic teaching is that sinners can repent, make a good act of contrition, and be forgiven. But the Church also teaches that the penalty for sin doesn’t just go away. On the spiritual side, even saved sinners must suffer in Purgatory (one of the big theological differences between Catholics and Protestants). On the material side, sinners whose sin is also illegal must subject themselves to the law. So if I commit a murder, and then repent, my sin may be forgiven,but I should turn myself in.

        • Barry says:

          “Both Law and Paterno believed that the sin was an act of free will, and that the sinner was capable of changing the sinful habit and making a good contrition. They overlooked the “render unto Caeser” part in favor of the idea that one should not judge the acts of others, but instead endeavor to encourage the sinner away from the sinful acts. ”

          What they overlooked was ‘protect the innocent’. If they were merely light on punishment, while protecting the victims, both of these scandals would be much less shocking and severe.

    • bradp says:

      The fact is that Paterno did try to run a clean program, and hundreds of people who knew him say he made their lives better.

      I think at this point we can be very sure that Paterno was far more concerned about what his altruism would do for him rather than what it would do for others.

    • Njorl says:

      I think there is a significant difference between the two. The institution Paterno was protecting was not Penn State, nor even Penn State football. The institution he was protecting was Joe Paterno. If he were genuine concerned with either Penn State, or its football program, he would have retired over 10 years ago.

      • greylocks says:

        This is probably true to a great extent, but the institution of PSU was happy enough to feed this egotism for the sake of fundraising and recruiting. He had plenty of accomplices.

  9. Scott Lemieux says:

    Is Joe “Paterno was a scapegoat” Posnanski planning on saying anything about this?

    • Sherm says:

      Probably my favorite sportswriter, until November 2011. I went to his blog a few days ago for the first time in months.

    • Paul Campos says:

      I have faith in this JP, and assume that book is in major re-write mode.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        That’s what I hope too. As Petchesky said, he should respond by writing the great book he has in him rather than the irrelevant hagiography he would have otherwise.

        • DivGuy says:

          There was a fascinating piece by Noam Cohen in the Times on Posnanski and Paterno, published in April. Posnanski is clear he isn’t writing the terrible book that people fear, but whether it’s the great book we hope for, that’s hard to say:

          In an interview last week with Dave Kindred of the National Sports Journalism Center, Posnanski said he hoped to finish the book by the end of April. He said the biography had become a “very, very different book,” in light of the startling final chapters of Paterno’s life.

          “But in many ways, it’s still the same,” Posnanski said. “It’s still about his life — a life that changed dramatically at the end.”

          The article also gives a pretty clear sense of the hagiography that Posnanski planned to write. I don’t know if he’s the best person to write a book like this, but I hope so.

      • Robert says:

        Possible danger sign on Posnanski’s book: Deadspin has an article today on how Bill James thinks the Freeh report exonerates Paterno. According to some of the commenters, James is close friends with Posnanski.

        I see Scott already replied to that article.

  10. Richard says:

    Good article over at Grantland by someone whose life revolved around Penn State
    http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/8160271/joe-paterno-legacy-penn-state-aftermath-freeh-report

  11. Julie says:

    Both Penn State football (and PS upper level administration) and the Catholic Church are all-male institutions. Sorry guys, I can’t help but feel that if there were one woman involved in the ruling authority of either, she would have said, “either you report this or I will cut his p*nis off”!!

    • Sherm says:

      If memory serves, the first school employee who actually believed a victim was female.

    • Bill says:

      Thanks for point this out. I think it’s absolutely correct.

    • Anonymous says:

      Jason Whitlock has published a piece today that elaborates on this very point.

    • bradp says:

      That is a statement that can be very right or very wrong depending on how close you believe it to be an absolute.

      I would like to think this was an alignment of particularly negligent individual men and that any other man put in their situation would very likely blown the whistle.

      And similarly, you could eventually find a woman who would go along with it.

    • daveNYC says:

      I doubt it. All the emails I’ve seen related to the coverup revolve around protecting the institution and Sandusky. There’s no reason to believe that a female who made it to that level of the administration wouldn’t have had the same investement in protecting their reputation that the men did.

      If there were some indication that the administration didn’t believe the charges, then maybe, maybe, a woman would have made a difference due to the whole way that rape charges can be similarly dismissed, but from what I’ve seen, I don’t think that was the case here.

      • greylocks says:

        There’s no reason to believe that a female who made it to that level of the administration wouldn’t have had the same investement in protecting their reputation that the men did.

        I think the point is that it is more likely, rather than an absolute guarantee, that a woman in a position to do something would have done something.

        There’s a reason it was a woman, and not any of the chucklehead fratboys in the audience, who called out Daniel Tosh for his rape jokes.

    • Linnaeus says:

      I tend to agree with this as well, although Cynthia Baldwin (PSU’s general counsel) doesn’t seem to come off all that well in the Freeh report. Granted, she came in to the position long after others already knew what was going on and perhaps her duties and obligations as general counsel constrained her ability to act on certain things. But her opposition to an independent investigation once all hell broke loose does leave a bad taste in my mouth.

      • greylocks says:

        IANAL but I believe she would have had a professional ethical obligation to act in her client’s best interest, regardless of her personal feelings on the matter, and an independent investigation was clearly not in PSU’s perceived best interest at that time, although trying to prevent one made everyone look bad, as you point out.

        Nevertheless, looking like you might be hiding something and having it found out that you actually were hiding something are worlds apart, especially when the civil suits start flying.

        • Linnaeus says:

          Right; I’m definitely not putting Baldwin in the same category as Spanier, et al. I’m also not a lawyer, so I don’t know exactly what her professional obligations were in this situation. It’s possible that in her capacity as general counsel, she could not advocate a particular course of action that she would have otherwise.

    • Vir Modestus says:

      I tend to agree. A woman would be more aware of, and less tolerant of, the rape culture of PSU.

    • Sherm says:

      The above is a link to the Jason Whitlock article referenced above.

    • greylocks says:

      Great article. Thanks for the link.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      Hmmm…I think there are interesting gender dimensions to this story, but Whitlock doesn’t quite locate them:

      The Penn State tragedy is a disaster rooted in sexism and man’s lack of sexual control.

      We think with the wrong head.

      This isn’t about male biology or immutable facts about male sexuality. It’s about patriarchy, male privilege and social facts about men in our society and institutions. 21st-century American male attitudes toward authority and institutions are at least as, if not more, important to understanding the role of masculinity in this story as male sexuality is.

      • Linnaeus says:

        I’m glad someone else caught that. Overall, I’m sympathetic to Whitlock’s point in this article, but it doesn’t help his argument to engage in that brand of essentialism. In some ways, it undermines it.

  12. DrDick says:

    Simply more proof that big time college football is not a sport, it is a dangerous doomsday cult.

  13. montag says:

    This Paterno/Sandusky business is a textbook lesson in microcosm of what’s wrong with this country’s notions about what comprises leadership and who constitutes the elite.

    Just based on personal experience, the last fucking people on earth I’d look to for advice on leadership are football coaches and retired generals.

  14. tde says:

    This is one of the best commentaries I have read about this sad, sordid affair.

    Thank you.

  15. bradp says:

    My worlds are colliding again as Paul has been given the thumbs up by Brian at MGoBlog.

    http://mgoblog.com/content/unverified-voracity-coins-nickname

    • elm says:

      Wait, you’re the bradp that posts over there? I’m a devoted reader but only occassionally post there as elm. The internet is, indeed, a small world.

      • bradp says:

        That’s me. Michigan Football is my other obsession. I don’t really comment much over there cause the threads are kinda clunky and hard to follow.

        We are definitely spoiled by the content, though. I don’t think there is a single team-specific site that rivals it.

  16. CaptBackslap says:

    I wonder what percent of people in, say, Schultz’s situation would have actually done the right thing. It’s obviously non-zero, but I suspect that it’s much lower than most would guess (let alone people’s self-reports of what they themselves would do).

  17. Anderson says:

    Paterno should’ve done to Sandusky what Sherrill did to that bull at practice in Starkville.

  18. [...] society. Creationists look at scientists the way the world now looks at bankers.Paul Campos: “The saint and the sociopath“One lesson to take from this disgusting and horrifying spectacle is a very old one, taught by [...]

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