08 November 2011

Comment on the Penn State child rape scandal

Being a football fan, and knowing a few PSU alumni. . . and having had some people confide in me some similarly sad stories, it's hard for me to stay silent about these sorts of things.  I just suck at denial; I have to confront.  I'm actually rather surprised at how few forums are discussing this; maybe it's because it's just too depressing to think about?  Well, suck it up.  Even if you read the grand jury report, all you're getting is the nauseating details.  That's nothing compared to having your dignity shredded into a pile of ground meat by a rapist.
Anyway, while people's thoughts should really focus on the victims and the attacker, this is really turning into a story about Joe Paterno*.  That's unfortunate but unavoidable, as he is the face of the football program.  The rest is kind of cut-and-dry, anyway, even if it's far more important.  There just isn't much to discuss.  The accused has a right to due process; the victims have a right to justice.  Justice won't heal the wounds, but it needs to be done.  The political fallout is trivial in comparison, but tricker and much wider in scope.  It's also relevant, because the depth of the scandal is probably why it was buried in the first place.
So I guess the story goes that a visibly distressed assistant told "JoePa" he witnessed one of his coaches with a young boy in the shower room. . . but left out most of the details.  This was after a prior, similar incident was reported some years ago.  And JoePa reported it to his superiors, and considered that due diligence.  After that. . . nothing happened.  Well, nothing to anyone important.  The coach just continued to rape young boys for years while JoePa focused on football.  So some are defending him, asking what else he could do.  Others are calling him a monster, saying he should be fired for enabling the abuse.  The real out-there ones are close to saying he's just as bad.
OK, for perspective, he didn't enable anything.  He did report it.  He didn't hurt anyone directly, and there's no evidence whatsoever that he was apathetic about it -- although he did seem to have stuck his head in the sand and wished it went away.  He didn't report the police.  Some asked what the police would do; after all, from JoePa it'd be heresay.  He didn't even have any details on the matter.  They couldn't start an investigation, could they?


First, this is Joe Paterno for crying out loud.  He could call the fucking Governer of Pennsylvania at 3AM if he was serious enough, and he's smart enough to know it.  Second, he had direct access to an eyewitness.  Even if he didn't know the details, hear the words "coach" and "young boy" and "shower room" from a visibly shaken assistant and what other fucking details would you need to hear??  He could have easily arranged a meeting between the assistant and the police.  And who the hell reports a crime to their boss?  "Uh, hi Mr. Lumbergh, um, one of the guys in my department just witnessed a possible sexual assault of a minor.  I was just wondering, would HR be cool with that?"  What the hell!  This is what 911 was invented for, and he treats it like an administrative problem.  There was PLENTY JoePa could've done. I'm also not thrilled that he released a politically mealy-mouthed statement that sounds more defensive than anything and basically lets the university dictate his approach to the press, but whatever.  We'll get to my verdict on that.
So to review, on one hand he's saying he didn't do anything wrong (basically, not literally), and I agree.  On the other hand, I'm not accepting excuses about his inaction.  On one hand he's crafted a legacy of generosity and integrity; he's donated millions and hundreds of young men are better off for having met him.  On the other hand, he was right in front of a witness to sexual assault and didn't even call the cops.  Now that he can't hide it anymore, he's getting all political in front of the media.  So what do we make of JoePa?  Is he good or bad?

Good.  I would still say he is a good man.  Good, but a coward.  Pathetic.  Useless.  Just one among millions of Americans who confront adversity with the shamefully irresponsible initiative of "not my job".  Yet another disappointing loser who, when faced with the tough choice between blowing up the prestige he built up from decades of work to do the right thing or go all Genovese syndrome and abandon a young boy to his tragic fate, he chose to bury his head in his desk and hope the problem went away.  That doesn't make him bad, and I know plenty of people who aren't in any position to criticize his cowardice.  It doesn't take away from the good things he did either, but if you look at it, none of the good things he did are particularly brave.  Funding a library puts him on moral ground well above the vast majority of millionaires in this country, but it's not like throwing around donations put his career at risk.  He's generous, but he's no Chiune Sugihara.  For those that wish he could be remembered for decades of success and generosity and think of this as "tarnishing" his legacy. . . THIS IS his legacy.  It isn't tarnished; we just now know it for what it is.  This had been going on for years.  Don't you dare bury the victims again just because your precious little bubble burst.  It will define him, and it damn well should.  When I think about how he was able to concentrate on 4-3 schemes while a young boy might've been screaming in a shower room, I tremble with rage.  If he's the decent man I think he is, he won't be able to look in the mirror again without shame sucker-punching him in the gut.

*To those not familiar with Joe Paterno, he's one of the most venerable and well-respected coaches in college football history.  Even those who think of football as a corrupt fraternity of corporate greed and enabled thugs would concede that he was one of the "good guys".  So this is really about whether or not the college football is ready to have their last stronghold of integrity shattered like a hand grenade in a house of mirrors, all over a handful of boys.  My answer?  YES.  When children are truly victimized I really don't give a rat's ass about how anyone professes to be shocked or horrified.  You're not the effin' victim here.