Moral Crime and Punishment

What are we doing?

As a society, what in the name of all that is holy are we doing?

There is a lot of anger about what’s happening at Penn State University this week. I am a lifelong Penn State fan, a loyal and devoted supporter of head coach Joe Paterno. And I think he needs to pack up his office and leave the campus right this second.

Part of the anger that’s brewing is over whether Coach Paterno should really be taking the heat that he’s taking right now. I understand that there are people who believe that he shouldn’t be fired because he didn’t break any laws. When I first heard about the sickening charges against retired coach Jerry Sandusky, I was heartbroken. When I read the 23-page grand jury report, I was outraged.

Read it. It is not easy. In fact, it’s terrible. And that is why you should read it. Because as a society, we have stopped forcing ourselves to confront and believe that which is unpleasant to us, that which is horrific. And that is why we let these things happen over and over and over.

Legally, Paterno didn’t do anything wrong. When Mike McQueary (the unnamed “undergraduate assistant” who witnessed Jerry Sandusky sodomizing a young boy in a PSU facility shower room) told Coach Paterno what he saw, the coach notified the head of the athletic department, Tim Curley.

The grand jury’s report implies that McQueary and Paterno did nothing else.


And that’s not illegal.

AD Curley took the report to Gary Schultz, a vice-president of the university in a department that oversees the athletic department. Schultz took it to the president and reported it to The Second Mile, the charity organization founded by Sandusky in 1977 to work with at-risk youth in Pennsylvania.

It is the organization from which Sandusky chose his victims; all nine that prosecutors know of… all nine children from at-risk backgrounds who may not have had the support, the family, the sense of self, let alone the age and wisdom to know what was happening to them and to refuse it or report it. Eight of them testified in accounts detailed in the grand jury’s report. The ninth is stationed overseas in the military and unavaialable for deposition or testimony, but the grand jury knows his name.

Sandusky’s first run-in with the law was apparently in 1998, when someone reported him for sexual impropriety with a child. McQueary watched him rape a boy in 2002. A janitor saw him do it again, with another boy, years later. The grand jury’s investigation began in 2008, nine years after Sandusky retired from PSU (he retained privileges at the facilities). That was also the year that a high schoool administrator called police about an incident witnessed at the school with a student who had been part of Sandusky’s Second Mile organization.

All those years. All those children who didn’t have to suffer, if someone had called the police instead of his own boss.

When called upon by the grand jury, Coach Paterno and Mike McQueary testified as to what McQueary said he saw that day in 2002. McQueary told the grand jury that he had reported the matter to Paterno and that he had also had a separate meeting with Schultz and Curley, at which Paterno was not present. He testified that he told Curley and Schultz the same thing he had told Paterno.

When Curley and Shultz testified, they told the grand jury that McQueary had told them he was “uncomfortable” with what he saw, which they say he classified as “horsing around” – nothing sexually inappropriate.

Schultz and Curley are now under indictment, charged with perjury and failure to report the crime. Their defense attorneys are arguing to have the failure to report charge dropped, because the child in question was part of the Second Mile, not a PSU program, and Sandusky was acting as a staff member for the Second Mile at the time, not on the clock with Penn State; therefore, under the law, the obligation to report the crime falls to the Second Mile. Since Curley and Schultz had notified the organization of what McQueary reported, their legal obligation was fulfilled.

Convenient, isn’t it? That a Big Ten school with a legendary football program captained by a coach who’s been there for 60+ years would not be obligated by the law to report to police that Mike McQueary saw Jerry Sandusky raping a young boy in a Penn State facility. It’s a nice way for PSU to protect itself from scandal. At least, it was. And I think they knew it. I think Mike McQueary knew it, so he called his father, who told him to call Coach Paterno, his boss. Coach Paterno knew it, and that’s why he called his boss instead of the police. Tim Curley knew it, and that’s why he called Gary Shultz instead of the police. Gary Shultz knew it, and that’s why he called the Second Mile instead of police.

The janitor? The janitor was a troubled soul already, rocked by his memories of Korea, shaken so badly by what he witnessed that coworkers thought he might have a heart attack. He told his boss, too, because he didn’t know Sandusky’s name, and he was afraid he would lose his job if he blew the whistle. He saw Sandusky sitting in his car in the parking lot later and told his boss, “that’s him!”

His boss told him who, at the university, he could talk to about it.

That janitor is now suffering dementia, living in a nursing home, unfit to testify.

A fellow blogger (and I’ll not name her here because I don’t want people to get upset with her and go comment on her page) suggested that the problem is with the law; that if we want to hold people to a higher standard, our laws have to do so, as well. I don’t agree. The law cannot stop all that is horrible from happening. It cannot legislate morality. I think if we want to hold people to a higher standard, we have to stand up with the courage of our convictions and tell them in no uncertain terms that they were wrong. That, to hell with legalities and technicalities, what they have failed to do is the grave offense.

Who is more culpable: the man whose criminal sickness perpetuates his behavior for as long as he can get away with it… or the men who let him get away with it longer?

Nine children suffered, some of them for years. And there are likely more. Six grown men, four of them powerful, each knew about at least one of those children. Nine years went by since Mike McQueary saw Jerry Sandusky with the boy in the shower.

And the clock kept ticking.

I want Joe Paterno out of his office today. I want Mike McQueary out of his office today. I want everyone who ever knew Jerry Sandusky had done something sick and terrible to a child out of their offices, today. No Nebraska game this weekend. Go home. You’re finished here.

I am so terribly disappointed and heartbroken by this group of people I admired, this group I cheered, this group that was charged with shaping the lives of young men, who let the lives of young boys count for nothing.

The moral crime is willful ignorance. Verdict: Guilty. Every one.

Whoa Nelly!

What is it about sports that turns some people into irrational, angry freaks? And I’m not talking about violence at ball games. I’m not touching that. It’s stupid. It’s wrong. The end. I’m talking about people who get all fired up and mad at other people, or other teams, over something as silly and relatively meaningless to life as a ball game.

I’m a big sports fan. I’ve always loved sports. If there’s no NFL football this season, I will be beside myself. I’ll watch college games, though; I’ve been a Penn State fan all my life, and by invoking a woman’s prerogative, I’ve allowed myself to also be an Ohio State fan even though they’re both Big Ten teams, because Penn State was an independent school until 1990 and I went to a tiny college in Ohio which had great academics, but craptastic sports teams, and therefore I had to adopt OSU if I wanted to maintain my sanity.

That is the only thing in sports for which I’ve invoked a woman’s prerogative, by the way.

I’ve been well-versed on IndyCar racing since 1985. I’m not a huge baseball fan, but I watch the World Series and maybe a random game here and there before that. I don’t generally watch the NBA because I don’t care for that particular brand of showboating, but I’ll watch college hoops, and I do all the same grunting and shouting and throwing my arms up in the air that everyone else does during March Madness. I’ll even put a hockey game on, even though I really don’t understand hockey very well and can’t figure out why its season seems to be approximately 13 months long, nine months of which most people in the Lower 48 are unaware that the game is even being played, and the other four months of which appear to be playoffs.

On any given weekend afternoon, if the television is on, there will be a sport displayed on it. It’s part of the fabric of my life; I’d rather see a golf match on a Sunday afternoon than a bad Lifetime movie. And I don’t really like golf. I suppose, for me, it’s the shared experience and the fact that it’s a measure of actual skills, abilities and talents. It’s also that I grew up with a father who watched sports on the weekends, and that’s how I connected with him sometimes.

But there are a lot of things about sports fans that I just can’t abide. Irrational anger being one of them. How many of us know someone who we like just fine except when they’re watching their favorite team play? My college roommate’s boyfriend (now husband) threw plates at the television during Cavs games when we were in school. My plates. And my television.

I don’t understand people who want pitchers to bean batters with baseballs just to get even. Try winning, instead. I can’t be near someone who spends his or her time trying to shout someone else down or using completely irrelevant arguments roughly akin to “Oh yeah?! Well you’re ugly!” to try to make a point. Why do the successes or failings of a team of people you don’t know have such a profound effect on your feelings of self-worth that you have to pick a fight over them? I’m a loyal fan of Philadelphia teams, and I cannot tell you how often someone’s feelings of inadequacy over their own team results in them yelling at me because, in 1968, some Eagles fans booed Santa. “You booed SANTA!” they yell at me.

Well, actually, no, I didn’t. I wasn’t born until 1977. I don’t even know anybody who was there when that happened.

See, I don’t associate myself with entire throngs of people and/or entire teams of athletes who compete in a sport I don’t play. And you probably shouldn’t associate me with them, either. I’m an Eagles fan, a Phillies supporter, a backer of the Sixers and the Flyers (despite previous declarations of relative ambivalence toward their sports; I get the hometown pride thing, and I’ll never fault anyone for theirs). I’m pretty vocal. I’ll yell at the television. I’ll cheer. I’ll bang on the table or the couch (that’s pretty much just for Eagles games). But I do not play for the team, nor do I behave the exact same way as what in all reality is a very limited number of their fans.

And I don’t think you’re a loser if your favorite team loses. So stop trying to prove something to me with your fury. It’s juvenile.

Also, it makes your face look funny. There’s a vein in your forehead that sticks out when they screw up, and it scares me.

Don’t get me wrong. You’re allowed to have fun and be a goof when you want to lighten up and cheer on the team. Wear a foam finger. A hat that appears to be made out of cheese. A pig nose and a dress (though we’re already going to be at odds if you wear that, because it means you’re a Redskins fan, and I, as an Eagles fan, cannot possibly be your friend.)

But if you ever – and I mean ever – paint your chest and stand shirtless at a game where the temperature is somewhere in the vicinity of non-existent on a thermometer, we’re done.

But that’s sort of extreme, and most of the people in my life are at least old enough to know better at this point.

So those are the really freaky fans. Most people, I’ll admit, aren’t like that. When it comes to what is arguably the average sports fan, here’s what cracks me up, or makes me want to tear my hair out, depending on my mood:

-People who call in to radio sports talk shows and rant about one person – an owner, a manager, a coach, a player – being the entire reason for a whole team’s consistent failure. You’re delusional. Find a new point to make.

-People who don’t call in to radio sports talk shows, but still rant about one person – an owner, a manager, a coach, a player – being the entire reason for a whole team’s consistent failure. You’re delusional, too. But I’ll give you some credit for not being narcissistic enough to think an entire listening area should hear your ignorant opinion.

-People whose allegiance to a team extends only so far as when the team wins. I’ll give you a pass if your team’s suckitude forces you to endure more than ten losing seasons in a row.

-People who start altercations in bars over games (and, by association, people for whom alcohol is a catalyst for argumentativeness).

-People who seem to believe they actually play on the team. These folks turn up on those sports radio talk shows fairly often. “We need to improve the right outside linebacker position.” “We need more depth at center.” “We need better pitching.” Who is “we?” Are you on the roster and nobody knows? Are you 117th in the depth chart?

-People who feel the need to dress head-to-toe in their favorite team’s gear on game day.

-People who feel the need to dress head-to-toe in their favorite team’s gear on a day on which a game is not being played (that’s worse than the game day one).

These last two points have become particularly interesting to me. Jack, who works around sports types, finds it demeaning to wear a jersey with another man’s name on his back. He thinks that people who do so are insecure to some degree, and feel better about themselves via the association to some random person who happens to be talented enough to go pro. He thinks that’s kind of pathetic.

Jack’s kind of a deep thinker sometimes.

But he has a point, and frankly, not only have I come to see it; I’ve come to agree with it. Don’t be offended if you own a jersey with some player’s name on the back. I wouldn’t refuse to associate with you or anything, unless you’re a freak fan, but I think it’s an interesting topic for sociological study. Why do we think that professional athletes or celebrities are better than us? That their signatures mean more than ours? That they have outpaced us in accomplishments or live better lives?

Other than the fact that they’re rich. That’s a given.

My theory is that whatever it is that makes some fans think that those athletes are better people is the same thing that makes those fans irate at the smallest error in a game, or makes them lash out at a fan from an opposing team. Insecurity and immaturity. Napoleon Syndrome, in a metaphysical way.

Enjoy the game. But I’m going to sit waaaay over here, ‘kay?

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