Penn State Sex Scandal: “Losing Control Draws Me Toward All of This”
by Tom Gilson
Joe Paterno has been fired as football coach at Penn State. It happened at about 10 pm yesterday. News reports say he was notified of his dismissal by phone. The situation evokes grief over all that has been lost, astonishment over the absurd disproportionality of it all, and of course outrage over crimes reportedly committed and condoned. Meanwhile, as you’ll see below, there are serious questions about the context in which this has all occurred.
Paterno is the winningest coach in major college football history, and had been a shining fixture at Penn State since he began there as assistant coach in 1950, six years before I was born. Angry students rioted for hours.
I can’t ignore the football side of the story, which has been so great a part of Paterno’s life. Penn State’s team is on track to win the Big Ten Leaders Division. Michigan State, my alma mater, is in good position to win the Legends Division. The thought of my school playing for the Big Ten championship against a team in such deep turmoil ought to be encouraging, from a fan’s point of view. Penn State was looking pretty tough, up until this week. But if you’re not playing against Joe Paterno, you’re not playing against Penn State. From today’s perspective, if that championship game happens, it will be the emptiest, most meaningless contest in college football history.
But that’s only a game. It doesn’t begin to touch the depth of the tragedy.
Let’s get the obvious out on the table. What Jerry Sandusky allegedly did was wrong, horrible, and incalculably harmful to many. The university’s response appears to have been criminally lacking. If reports are true, the victims were harmed in ways most of us could never grasp—especially since such a powerful institution was (again, allegedly) backing the perpetrator. From what we’ve been told, Joe Paterno seems to have done what was required of him legally, but he fell far short of doing the right thing morally.
Child sexual abuse remains one of the last remaining sins in our culture. It’s part of a short list that also includes corporate greed, pollution, “intolerance” (whatever that means), and hypocrisy in general—provided that said hypocrisy is committed by moral or political conservatives. The hypocrisy of the “tolerant” is openly and widely approved: it was a major corporation’s officers of Diversity and Inclusion who excluded my friend Frank Turek from a work contract, simply because of the diversity of his beliefs.
Penn State is officially intolerant of intolerance. The school does officially support free speech, at least, and the school’s harassment policy seems to be reasonably (though ambiguously) bounded by the definitional requirement,
(2) … sufficiently severe or pervasive so as to substantially interfere with the individual’s employment, education or access to University programs, activities and opportunities. To constitute prohibited harassment, the conduct must be such that it detrimentally affects the individual in question and would also detrimentally affect a reasonable person under the same circumstances.
Thankfully, in spite of deep cultural confusion regarding sin, most of us still agree some things are wrong, even at the university. Some of them are even (gasp!) more important than Big Ten Football. Important enough even to fire Joe Paterno.
Nevertheless, what strikes me about this whole sad mess is the disproportionality I see everywhere I look…
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