Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Say It Ain't So, Joe


I was going to avoid this subject simply because there's an odd sort of conflict of interest at play for me -- namely, all of my ex's siblings went to this particular school and their rabid allegiance to it was the subject of quite a bit of back-and-forth between us during my time with their sister. I've never been someone who aligns myself with any group, let alone vigorously, and so I never could understand the almost cult-like devotion and blood-brotherhood ethos with fellow alumni that an alma-mater could inspire. It just didn't make a bit of sense to me and so I often looked at the traditional machinations and proclamations of unwavering faith that went along with it probably much the same way that Mark and Ollie looked at the Mek tribe when they made the decision to live with it and document its alien ways. Although I was probably more of a dick than those guys were -- I admit that.

Bottom line, though: My adopted brothers and sister are truly great people and I certainly wouldn't want to insult them, but strangely that very special brand of steadfast fealty is part of the reason I want to at least throw out a minor comment or two on the child sex abuse scandal at Penn State that just ended the almost mythical career of the school's football coach, Joe Paterno. I won't run down the details of the scandal that has inarguably brought shame to what was going to be the hallowed legacy of Paterno and has consumed the Penn State athletics program from the inside out; those details are sickening, made even more so when you consider that it appears there were those within the program -- Paterno included -- who at least had some idea what was going on with defensive coach Jerry Sandusky and yet didn't lift a finger to truly put a stop to it. Obviously, Paterno isn't charged with a crime and I believe him when he expresses extraordinary remorse for what happened, as well as what he did and didn't do about it. Paterno's cultivated a reputation for being a stand-up guy, so it really is unfortunate that this is the way he's going to go out.

The issue I have, again, is with the view by those who either went to Penn State or just count themselves among the school's many fans that it's an almost infallible institution. Case in point: An article written for USA Today College by a Penn State alum named Emily Grier in which she goes to nearly super-human lengths to express sympathy for the victims of the alleged abuse while defending Penn State as an establishment -- a way of life, even -- that remains largely above reproach. One which has earned the devotion it inspires through a lifetime of good deeds that simply can't be sullied by the actions of a few bad apples.

Except that this runs much deeper than that.

True, at worst it would appear as if the gruesome crimes allegedly perpetrated by Sandusky were indirectly enabled by a handful of people, but those people are undeniably the power structure of Penn State -- not necessarily the heart of the school but certainly the ones who hold the hearts, minds and loyalty of the student body and beyond. Make no mistake, if a systemic cover-up of any kind took place that allowed Jerry Sandusky to rape children, that's not a couple of bad apples -- that's a Catholic Church-level crime. And much like followers of the Catholic Church, the Penn State nation will have to learn to reconcile the fact that the view of their institution has been irreparably tarnished, and with excellent reason. Of course the school has done much good throughout its history and that shouldn't be disregarded, but it can be argued that the church has as well, and yet that allowed it no slack when the details of the behavior of a relative few within its ranks began to come to light. In fact, the presentation of itself as a benign and charitable entity is exactly why its sins are so devastating. Why they feel like such a betrayal to so many.

Joe Paterno is Penn State. He's the face of the school -- its deity. And when you hold someone or something up to idol worship, you blind yourself to the possibility that that person or institution is capable of terrible things. The same as any of us is.

It bothers me because it makes me feel like I was always right in saying that no one deserves sanctification -- no one has earned it and no one, no matter how much you believe in him or her, is beyond the potential to let you down. I wish someone would prove me wrong about this, but that never seems to happen. The good almost always succumb. Evil generally triumphs. Even gods fall. And when they do, it devastates those who worshiped them -- leaving everything they believed in in tatters and leaving them desperate for answers.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Here is the one problem with your argument:

"a handful of people, but those people are undeniably the power structure of Penn State -- not necessarily the heart of the school but certainly the ones who hold the hearts, minds and loyalty of the student body and beyond."

I'm sorry, but this failed leadership hardly holds my heart, mind, and loyalty. The institution and all teh good that it has done does, not the handful of old white men who run the joint and who failed miserably.

John Foley said...

I don't think anyone deserves sanctification, especially not a fucking football coach. I really don't understand that rabid allegiance of college sports fans.

namron said...

That last paragraph is your membership entry into a very small club: writers under 40 (or close to it) whose work demonstrates rational, secular emotion without condemnation of spiritual or religious belief. Thank you.

VOTAR said...

Penn State Football is for Fags.

Anonymous said...

As a person raised in a Roman Catholic household, seeing my parents do the moral and theological jumps to justify their continued support of the church was difficult to watch. For them, turning away from the faith was not only damning themselves, but also us the kids. The church that I was an alter boy for 5 years was one of the many churches were a pedophile was allowed to work for about six months before he was moved elsewhere. Ten years later, when it came out that this monster was there, my father actually sat me down and asked if anything happened around the priest in question. Thankfully no. But the look of total horror on my father's face, and the conflict between the faith system he was raised in and the reality of the situation left him for lack of a better word, utterly shell shocked.

I'm not of any religious faith. I honestly think its all retarded no matter what system you buy into. A priest raping a child is no different than a banker or any other job holder. But to my father, as a true believer, raised in the church both religiously and in school, he was shattered having to deal with this.

To compare this to a fucking college football team or beloved coach is insulting to me as a former Catholic. Every single person that knew Sandusky was raping children and didn't inform the police should face repercussions. I feel the same way about the Catholic Church which sadly, like Penn State, seems determined to do the bare legal minimum.

Besides, I don't know why people care if Old Joe goes away...he hasn't made a single decision involving the team since he died five years ago. I swear the dude is just a stuff cadaver they drag out for press conferences.

Anonymous said...

I am a Penn State alum who does not love my alma mater because of a coach, a sport, or a team, but because my degree is from there and four of the best years of my life were there. I was very involved on campus with organizations that have done a lot of great things. I went to a few football games, but that was about it. Do you know how big the student body is? A very small percentage of that number is how many student football tickets are available for each game. There are many Penn State alum who, like me, don't really give a crap about the football team there. We went there to get an education and are now out in the world as productive citizens. Joe Pa is not the face of Penn State to me. All of this saddens me because, although I don't care if it reflects poorly on the individuals involved or even the entire football program, I don't want it to reflect on my beloved university. The other thing that saddens me even more is that the stories of the victims are already getting lost because of the attention on Joe Pa. Very, very sad.

Steven D Skelton said...

"It bothers me because it makes me feel like I was always right in saying that no one deserves sanctification -- no one has earned it and no one, no matter how much you believe in him or her, is beyond the potential to let you down."

That's pretty much a restatement of the first half of the gospel...at least as I understand it.

Chez said...

Yes, Steven, except for the fact that Jesus probably didn't even exist.

Claude Weaver said...

I wish someone would prove me wrong about this, but that never seems to happen.

Um, why?

No, seriously. Why?

People fuck up. It is as immutable a fact as "people breathe". After all the crap we have witnessed throughout history, putting this kind of faith (blind or not) into ANYTHING is asking for misery.

I'm not saying that you should just shut yourself away from anyone who could hurt you. Nobody can survive total isolation. I am saying that if you take into account the inevitable failure of anybody or anything, and stop making unreasonable expectations (well, all expectations are somewhat unreasonable at some point), you save yourself a lot of pain.

I guess it is true what I heard: a cynic is simply a foiled idealist.

Matt said...

I am a Penn State alum and I don't particularly care about the football team. I don't have a strong sense of allegiance to the school either, even though I lived in State College for 7 years, during my early 20's. It may be that I was a mediocre student who was far more interested in getting wasted on a nightly basis than having anything to do with the rah-rah mindset. I actually resented the football program at times, since I supported my drinking habit by working in some of the busier restaurants in town and we always got completely slammed on football weekends. Even so, Paterno always seemed to represent a kind of integrity to me and so now I'm finding myself looking for excuses for him. Like "what did the assistant actually tell him?" and "did the AD tell him to keep his mouth shut?" What I always come back to though is that he knew something and he probably could have done more, and didn't. So it makes me sad that, instead of an integrity that seems rare in college athletics, Paterno's legacy will be this. Sandusky, on the other hand, can have his extremities slowly burned off in acid for all I care.

Anonymous said...

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/onward-state/sandusky-scandal-national_b_1085201.html

IrishGirl said...

I went to high school in Central PA and a lot of my high school friends went to Penn State. So I experienced first hand the kind of rabid fanaticism many express about Penn State football. I always found it very strange (like you Chez I'm not a big alum kind-of-person).

What irritated me about it most are the college students who rioted last night. Instead of doing something productive to help the community and the victims begin to heal and clean up this mess, the stupid students got drunk (I'm sure alcohol was involved, its ALWAYS involved) and acted like asses when they found out Paterno had been fired. He deserved to be fired. Anyone who knows about a sexual assault or molestation of a child, particularly one who works with students (regardless of the age) that doesn't go to the Police is in the wrong. I wouldn't have cared if it was Jesus Christ after the second coming, I would have fired his ass. There should be no equivocation on this point because of his supposed "status". Too bad the Penn State college students aren't educated enough to know that.

David said...

Fuck Paterno. I hope his every day is an agony and he dies a wasted man; and hopefully in jail where he gets raped, each and every day under the most excruciating circumstances. I have 2 children, and to think that this self righteous twit had the indecency to maintain Sandusky in ANY capacity is a crime, on all levels. To any person that wants to "see" all sides of this, they should try and place themselves in the shoes of a scared little boy that knows that these people are revered in their communities, and that this creepy old fuck wants to rape you. I'll repeat once again, for emphasis, Fuck Paterno and this time with Sandusky's dick--if he can get it up with anything other than a child.

Btw Chez, I'll understand if you don't post this but I had to vent somewhere.

TheReaperD said...

@David: Dude, chill. I fully agree that this guy is a piece of shit who deserves to go to prison if he knew of the assaults and chose to cover it up but, it is responses like yours that leads to dumb as hell child sex laws such as kids getting a felony on their record and having to register as sex offenders, sometimes for the rest of their lives, for "sexting" each other. Don't kid yourself that your kids "have been taught better and would never do something like that" because, they will. Please learn to put your overprotective rage into check for everyone's sake, including your kids.