I've been watching some pro football the last couple of years. I don't know if I'd be watching if both New York teams were terrible, but the Giants are having a pretty good season, the Jets are kind of like the Mets as the area's Goofy Team and might also sneak in. But football for football's sake? Naah. And I have zero interest in college football.
I watch my friends struggle to get scholarship money for their college-bound children, and the only money available is for sports stars. I see the obsession in my town with youth sports and I know that at least some of this is due to parents knowing that while the National Honor Society might throw a few bucks at your kid, a sports scholarship is where the significant money is. Of course they dream of their kid being the next B.J. Raji, a local kid whose parents are soon to move into a ridiculously bigass house with corinthian columns on a through street in my area, but the more realistic parents will take what they can get if it offsets some of the mid-five-figures that college costs every year, even if it's only a couple thousand dollars for excellence in fencing.
Football gives money to a very few kids, but it brings in BIG money to colleges. And for Big Ten schools that have "legendary" coaches like Joe Paterno, the money is huge, which probably explains the cone of silence that was the result of assistant coach Mike McQueary informing Joe Paterno that he had seen Paterno's heir apparent, Jerry Sandusky, raping a boy in the shower.
But while we correctly have universal revulsion in our society for those who molest children, our revulsion seems to be selective. We confuse pedophila with homosexuality. Gay men can't be Boy Scout troop leaders, but no one hesitates to leave their son with a priest, a pastor, or a youth coach.
When a guy rapes and murders his 7-year-old neighbor, we get "Megan's Law", and there is, as there should be, universal condemnation and revulsion. Even if a child is not murdered, but "only" raped, there's universal condemnation and revulsion. It's accepted wisdom that even in prison, child molesters are regarded as the lowest of the low.
But let the abuser come from a religious framework, or from a highly-touted sport (and I'm not sure that there's a difference in some people's heads between actual religion and football, which seems to be a quasi-religion to many), and all of a sudden there's "nuance" and "extenuating circumstance."
If the guy down the street flashes a group of schoolchildren, pandemonium ensues. But if a priest sexually abuses a child, it's covered up by the Church. If a pastor sexually abuses a child, no one dares say anything. It's as if these people think that the abuse of a child is somehow sanctioned by God, or that there MUST be some kind of "explanation" that exonerates the suspect if he is a "man of the cloth". And when part of the mythos around a star sports coach is that he was "a god" at Penn State, it's not difficult to make the leap from being a figure of speech to an actual reality.
It's been interesting to listen to local progressive talk radio AND to sports talk radio the last few days. I've especially been gratified to see that the sports talk guys AREN'T falling into the "He's The Legendary Joe Paterno So I Know He Meant Well" trap. Even the biggest asshole on the New York airwaves, Craig Carton, minced no words when a Penn State journalism student tried to defend Joe Paterno yesterday by blaming the media:
Carton is a guy who was fired from his last gig for making fun the postpartum depression of the wife of then-Governor Richard Codey, and I have no great love for this guy, for all that he's weirdly entertaining and yes, Boomer and Carton is sometimes my morning drive-time guilty pleasure. But on this one he's 100% spot on.
Carton is the father of young children and as a result is correctly responding from that visceral place of "What if that had been my kid?" But even among people I know, there is clearly a struggle going on between trying to justify Paterno's actions by saying "Well, he thought he was doing the right thing by reporting the incident to the college authorities" and "What if that had been my kid?"
Most of the callers into Boomer and Carton and to Mark Riley yesterday were clearly struggling with what this incident means to Paterno's legacy and what should be done. A caller to Steve Summers last night on WFAN concocted a fairy tale in which Jerry Sandusky went to Joe Paterno and said "I have this problem, I need help", to which Summers responded "Then why didn't he get him help?" A caller less in thrall to the Church of College Football because he himself had been a player told Mark Riley yesterday morning that the entire football program at the school needs to be shut down for two years and rebuilt from the ground up, with NONE of the current staff, including Mike McQueary, allowed to stay on.
But here's what I find disturbing: Why is there even any dispute that Penn State did the right thing by firing Paterno? Aside from the fact that the entire structure deemed it appropriate to protect a pedophile rather than "damage the Penn State brand", why is there any ambiguity? Does fielding a winning football team year after year justify EVERYTHING, let alone anything? When the murder of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman hit the news in 1994, it was the talk of the lunch table at the company at which I was working at the time. One of my colleagues refused to believe that O.J. Simpson could have possibly killed his wife, because "He's O.J., man!"
He's Joe Paterno, man!
No, what he is, or was, is a guy who helped bring in over $50 million to Penn State every year, that's what he is. And the bottom line here is that until the last few days when the story could be contained no longer, Penn State and everyone who still defends Joe Paterno, obviously believe that the rape of a ten-year-old, or multiple ten-year-olds, as appears now to be the case, is necessary and a small price to pay if it protects the cash cow that is Penn State football. It's the "Never Disrespect the Bing" school of moral relativism.
And that anyone -- ANYONE -- feels this is justified is a sad commentary on our culture.