Sunday, July 15, 2012

A few last words (for now) on Penn State

I'm gonna be honest: I don't really care about the Joe Paterno statue. It's a weird, uncomfortable thing that I'd prefer not to look at as a attendee (even a neutral one) but could justifiably* be left up since the guy coached there for 50 years and basically built the thing that is Penn State football.

The "justifiably" qualifier in the previous sentence does not cover this:
The embattled members of Penn State's Board of Trustees quietly have decided to leave Joe Paterno's statue standing, according to sources with firsthand knowledge of the trustees' private discussions this week.

The trustees' reluctance to remove the statue is motivated, in part, by a desire not to offend alumni and students who adore the late coach despite the damning findings of his role in the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse cover-up detailed in the Freeh report, the sources said. ...

"The statue represents the good that Joe did," a trustee said. "It doesn't represent the bad that he did."
As for the second bolded portion: Oh, that's how it works? Gotcha.

As for the first bolded portion: The implication that the "desire not to offend alumni and students who adore the late coach" is more important than the desire not to offend, ya know, the victims of a child molester is an implication that nobody has learned anything. Penn State football is still PENN STATE FOOTBALL and thus more important than doing things that make any sense within the general construct of society. And that's why Penn State football needs to cease existing for a little while.

I said "I just don't know, man" a couple days ago but now know because of the quote provided by the above-cited anonymous trustee. This excerpt from a death-penalty debate in The Atlantic pretty aptly summarizes the cultural thing in a way I've been unable to:
Some observers think the NCAA should punish the university's football program for a lack of institutional control, perhaps levying the seldom-used "death penalty." Right idea. Wrong executioner. I say leave NCAA sanctions -- lost scholarships, television bans, blah blah blah -- out of it, and just shut down the team altogether. Permanently. The lesson of the Freeh report isn't just that Paterno and others didn't do enough; it's that everyone else loved Penn State football too much. Loved it so much it became a totem, an identity, an entire culture. Not just a game. Not just a silly diversion. Something people were far too afraid to cross. Something people remain far too afraid to lose.

In his Thursday press conference, Freeh mentioned Penn State janitors who saw Sandusky molesting a boy in the shower. One, a Korean War veteran, called the scene "the worst thing I ever saw." Nevertheless, he and the other janitors decided not to report it. They didn't want to get fired. "If that's the culture on the bottom," Freeh said, "God help the culture on the top." Yes. A thousand times yes.
I disagree about the "permanently" part (I rarely advocate for permanent anything) but agree with everything else. It was always about football; that won't/can't change as long as Penn State has a football program since said program will always be The Most Important Thing. I know it will always be The Most Important Thing because the trustees are responding to something that's making everybody with a conscience question the existence of ivory-tower morality by saying, "yeah but JoePa!" No.

I could link to/opine on literally 100 well-thought-out pieces here or turn this into a thread that would generate an unending string of back-and-forth responses about the devastation of the death penalty and whether it hurts the wrong people and whether it would destroy Penn State's nonrevenue programs and what would happen to the Big Ten and yadda yadda yadda. But here's the thing: I don't wanna spend the foreseeable future writing/reading/hearing about Penn State and The Stuff. I don't. The applicable lessons should be obvious and the punishment should be sufficient that the people who still don't get it will get it via forceful reprioritization (be it at Penn State or anywhere else with a similarly skewed structure and thus the potential for similarly horrifying complicity). And that should be it; everything thereafter should be an Iraq-style** cultural rebuilding in a way that doesn't allow (to whatever extent possible) either The Stuff or the incomprehensible responses necessitated by the current culture/structure.

The end. Everything else is just reflection/inflection/judgment-tion that I really don't have the desire or level of willpower to continue participating in (yet can't avoid due to pure volume).

Caveat: It won't happen. The NCAA doesn't have the authority (the death penalty is only applicable to a program that's tagged as a repeat offender) and Penn State doesn't have the ... ummm ... anything; the program is the statue to the nth degree. So whether it will go away and whether it should go away (at least temporarily) are two different things. There will be games and there will be all the things that accompany games and there will be a lot of awkwardness/discomfort both during and in between those things that must be overlooked so as not to offend alumni and students who adore the late coach the program. Priorities and all that.

*The not-totally-insane justification would be the one at the end of my lede: The guy had 40-ish years of (presumably) laudable program-establishing success prior to the awfulness. I wouldn't really agree with that justification but would at least be able to recognize the logic that produced it.

**No political-policy support/dissent intended.


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