Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Statue to Denial

There is no amount of reality that can change the mind of someone in denial. Committed smokers will ignore every warning to their health until it’s too late. So, too, apparently will the Board of Trustees of Penn State.

Seemingly committed to implementing most (but not, of course, all) of the recommendations of the Freeh report that detailed institutional criminal indifference to the helpless and numerous victims of Jerry Sandusky’s sick obsessions, the Board of Trustees still can’t understand the fuss about a little ol’ statute of culprit and disgraced former head coach Joe Paterno that stands as a beacon of sorts, in not so Happy Valley.

The results of the independent investigation into the whys and wherefores and hows of Sandusky are such that for whatever good intention Penn State’s so-called “Grand Experiment” of balancing athletics and academics once had that experiment is now over and it failed miserably.

Maybe it is impossible to balance big time athletics, especially football, with the academic goals of our biggest colleges. But the answer to that question isn’t borne out by the Penn State mess. Penn State failed because those conducting the experiment, like Paterno, were both arrogant and myopic. So impressed were they with their own theories and high mindedness that they became the very symbols of what they supposedly were guarding against.

And yet, and yet, despite one damning page after another of a report so complete in its discrediting of Penn State, the school’s Board of Trustees still cannot seem to grasp the enormity of the situation or even their own level of culpability.

The statue of Paterno should be the first thing to go. Until it does it stands for what exactly? One of the trustees claims that the statue represents the good Joe did and not the bad as if by fiat he can dictate how others should feel about Paterno.

As long as it does stand it represents denial on a grand scale, its image intended to harken back to a time before the world knew about Sandusky, apparently. There’s no honor in that unless you’re completely delusional, which the trustees apparently are. The report placed significant and equal blame on Paterno and three other top university administrators for failing to “protect against a child sexual predator harming children over a decade.”

Indeed, the report can fairly be read to place even more blame on Paterno then the others for two key reasons. One, he ran the football program with an iron fist and steamrolled any one, including other administrators, for years to keep any problems “in house.” That’s in the report. Second, he knew of the allegations 10 years before they came to light, denied it under oath, and also talked an administrator out of reporting the abuse allegations in favor of dealing with the problem directly with Sandusky, which had the added benefit of not bringing unfavorable publicity to the university. That he wasn’t prosecuted initially was a nod, again, to the power he wielded in a small community.

Because of his intentional indifference to dealing with Sandusky’s criminal creepiness, there were additional victims that suffered repeatedly for years. That makes Paterno directly complicit in the sexual abuse of several children for years. There’s no other way to spin it and no way to sugar coat it. For whatever else he did with his life, this will be Paterno’s lasting legacy. No one needs a statue to remind them of that.

But why rush to judgment? The trustees say they need many more months to pass so that they can reach a decision not informed by emotion. If nothing else, the consistency of the thinking of Penn State remains remarkably in tact. Sandusky was able to victimize several more kids as the result of just that kind of deliberate Penn State think, which is to close your eyes and wish the problem away through the passage of time.

If there was a clear thinking person associated with Penn State at the moment he or she might realize that that kind of thinking really is the best marker for how deeply infected Penn State really is and why just a general housekeeping will never be enough.

Penn State may have world class research facilities and scores of excellent students, but it is all being overseen by a criminal enterprise deluding themselves into thinking they’re a bunch of high minded educators just trying to do their best to get by. They are a bunch of low minded, protectionist goons who seem more intent on preserving their own jobs than in doing any real good for the university they’re charged with overseeing.

Paterno, too, demonstrated a remarkable ability to turn over the facts in his mind in a way to avoid facing the reality of a situation that he was ill equipped to handle.

CNN released a letter that Paterno had written shortly before his death addressing the scandal that he helped foster through his wrong-headed protective instincts. Paterno couldn’t have been more definitive or more defiant: the Sandusky scandal wasn’t a football scandal and it wasn’t an academic scandal.

It’s exactly the same kind of thinking as the trustees who oversaw his pathetic reign. If Joe says it’s a certain way then that’s the way it must be.

Wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong again.

That Sandusky was a serial pedophile preying on vulnerable young men isn’t unique to football generally, but it had everything to do with Penn State football. Sandusky used that program as his own personal recruiting tool for vulnerable children. Paterno used his position in that program and with the university to shield Sandusky from further scrutiny. If using the football program and its facilities with the permission and acquiescence of people in charge who should have known better but didn’t to further pedophilia isn’t a football scandal, then what exactly is it?

The NCAA is all about punishing schools and players who use the advantages of athletics to further their own personal and/or economic interests. Maybe our small minds can only grasp what that means when its players getting free tattoos or selling their gear for rent money. But that’s not a sufficient reason nor will it ever be when it involves a school, a program and its leaders deliberately ignoring the most heinous form of human trafficking as a sick, twisted bastard was in their midst getting his jollies fondling children. They did it to preserve the program from embarrassment and to keep the spigot of money turned on full blast without interruption. just so they can avoid embarrassing publicity.

Penn State, as an institution, is infected with a toxic mold and it’s going to take more than a little bleach to get it clean. If the Board of Trustees doesn’t immediately dismantle the Paterno statue as the most immediate step and then follow it up by suspending the football program indefinitely and perhaps forever, it will serve as a reminder that a winning team and the money it generates is more important than honesty, integrity, virtue and, ultimately, just doing the right damn thing.


Anonymous said...

But GB, they removed his halo from the mural! Isn't that enough?

Anonymous said...

OSU will sit out bowls this year even though 1/2 the team wasn't enrolled when the infractions occurred.
I don't think that's entirely fair, but it's only one year.
I also don't think that Penn State fans, students, faculty, alumni,
football players should be penalized harshly for something three men failed to do.
Two year bowl ban; scholarships reduced for a few years.
Never let a coach continue past the age of 65.
I'm 62, and I know I can't coach like I could when I was younger.
Face the reality of aging.