How Did Joe Paterno and His Cronies Live with Those Images? How Do We?

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The Joe Paterno/Jerry Sandusky story is like a coffee table puzzle I can solve most of the way but never completely. Maybe you can show me the last moves.

The first move is this. Beginning in 1998, according to the Freeh inquiry released yesterday, Paterno, Penn State President Graham B. Spanier and other top officials at the university had this picture in their minds: Jerry Sandusky, their peer, performing anal and oral intercourse on children in the Penn State football program's own locker room.
That picture was in their heads. I'm sure they didn't want it to be. I'm sure they tried to reason it away, force it to disappear, block it, make it go away. But that picture was in their heads.

The Freeh inquiry found that Paterno was definitely thinking about it, asking about it, trying to stay on top of it. So, indulge me here: Forget the legalities for a moment. Think about the picture.

At any given moment, Paterno and the other men at the top of the football program and the university had a picture in their heads of Jerry Sandusky down there in their own locker room doing it again to another kid, after they had decided not to give him up to the cops.

That's Step One in the puzzle. Now let's do Step Two. According to everybody's theory of this, including Freeh, Paterno and the other men decided not to stop Sandusky from raping children in their locker room because they feared that disclosure and scandal would tarnish their believed football program and university.

Believe it or not, I want to pass over that one sort of quickly, not because I fully get it, but because I want to get on to Step Three. Let's just do what the lawyers do in court sometimes and "stipulate" to Step Two. For the sake of argument, we will agree to Step Two.

We will agree that it's terrible. It's awful. Wow, people are capable of terrible things in the name of ambition and pride. We know all that. Hate it. Know it. Awful.

So here's the step I can't do. Step Three. The next one. Why wasn't this Step Three? Why didn't Paterno and Spanier and the rest of them call Sandusky in and say, "We know what you are. You're a stinking reptile. You are evil incarnate. You may have us over a barrel, you bastard, because, as you know, if this story ever goes public it will ruin the name of this football program and university forever. So as much as it sticks in our craw, we're going to let you walk.

"But don't walk. Run. Run the hell away from us, as fast and as far as you can get. You make us puke-sick every time we think of you down there in that locker room screwing another child. If we even see you in our dreams again, we will burn your ass and put you in stir for the rest of your born days."

That's the Step Three that would allow me to almost close the puzzle. Step Four, the last one, would be that they all get caught anyway.

But that's not what happened. Step Three was different. Step Three is my problem. They kept him around.

They passed him on campus -- "Hey, Jerry, what's up?" -- and bumped into him socially. They had that picture in their minds. They let him use their locker room. They could live with that picture. And live with him.

I saw Paterno's son on TV last night saying that his father would never allow children to be harmed in order to avoid bad PR for the football program. I feel for the son. I suspect he'll go to his grave never understanding his own father.

But in an odd way, I think he's also right. The whole thesis of protecting the football program seems off. It doesn't quite solve the puzzle. There is some kind of failure of dimension here.

Lots of people have programs and institutions, egos, ambitions, dreams and fortunes of which they are extremely protective. But how many of them have the picture in their heads of Jerry Sandusky down there in their own locker room week after week raping kids from poor families?

There's a greater evil here. It's way beyond PR and football. Paterno's son is right when he says that explanation is inadequate. His mistake is in not looking behind that rock to a much greater, more frightening depravity and bestiality lurking beyond.

Where is the Christian right on this, by the way? I have been watching and listening. Where are the people who want the government to stick digital probes up the vaginas of women undergoing abortions and then lecture them about their decisions? I just don't hear anything from them. The silence howls.

These were children. This has something to do with authority and the objectification of human beings. It has something to do with the kind of dehumanization that prepares the bloody ground for slaughter. I can't work that part of the puzzle, but I know it's there. How else does one live with the picture?

Step Three should have been revulsion and anger. Why wasn't there revulsion and anger? Is raping kids in the locker room pretty bad but not that bad? Is it something we can regret but live with?

Why can we live with it? That's the real question. Please forget football. Forget ambitious jock jerks. Those are not the questions. The real question is much tougher. Who are we? What are we? Do you know?



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13 comments
PlanoDave
PlanoDave

Hey, Jim. Where is your response to the editorial today over at DMN?  You wrote about how you were right about their response to the Trinity Parkway, but what about your response to the "Backpage.com" article? I don't think you have the stones to respond, old man.

Bill Marvel
Bill Marvel

I really DO have to pay closer attention. Who is MJ? And what point are you trying to make?

Bill Marvel
Bill Marvel

Scuffy, If we believed "an unproven entity" would handle things, then we might not be moved to speak out against any perceived evil, would we?  Yet in our own weird, selective way, we do.

Bill Marvel
Bill Marvel

While we're at it, one might ask Jim, How does one tolerate a publication that derives much of its income from ads sexually exploiting young women, some of whom unquestionably are minors. But you see, this only proves my point. When it comes to speaking out on matters of morality each of us -- every one -- is highly selective in what we will condemn.

Bill Marvel
Bill Marvel

But still father apart than you imagine. Obviously, the purpose of a celibate priesthood is not to condone or encourage pederasty. (Snarkiness aside, there are legitimate reasons for an unmarried clergy.) The Vatican already does allow marriage under some circumstances. Certain Eastern Rites in union with Rome have retained a married clergy. Married Anglican priests have come over to Roman Catholicism, wife children and all, and received ordination. Don't know if pederasty has been a problem among these groups. My guess is that if the Vatican opened the door to married clergy it would have no discernible effect on the problem. Pederasts are married, too. The real question behind all this had not been answered -- or even raised. Why are certain men (usually, though not always men) sexually drawn to boys (often, though not always boys)? It's a pretty widespread phenomenon. Not all cultures regard it as shameful, though I would guess few cultures boast about it. It was a kind of norm in the ancient world. I'm not quite sure anyone knows, probably least of all pederasts themselves. It's certainly an addiction, and while addicts are to be pitied, still we want to keep these particular addicts as far from our children as possible. We want a no-tolerance policy, not exactly the same thing as what you advocate, which is pretty much swift execution.  And Jim's original question still stands unanswered. If we're all against sexual abuse of children, as we say, why was Sandusky's behavior allowed to go on and on? And why, now that it's been exposed, are some of he voices one would expect to be raised conspicuously silent. Is it enough to say, Oh, well, you know I'm against pederasty and so forth. It' just that I have bigger moral fish to fry.       

Royce Williams
Royce Williams

Why am I not surprised that such an idiotic observation was submitted by someone who incorporates 666 in their username.  Yet another batshit crazy bastard.

Mewkins
Mewkins

I think you hit it. I've wondered why the Second Mile Charity wasn't scrutinized more. 

Chiggers!
Chiggers!

This too shall pass? You've got to be kidding me. No wonder you can't rout the evil from your precious organization. Biblical platitudes just aren't going to cut it, Bill Marvel.

Chiggers!
Chiggers!

The silence howls. Holy shit, yes. This is the same dynamic that keeps my extended family defending the Catholic Church. They are convinced that it is individual bad actors perpetrating discrete crimes rather than institutional failure that harbors and shields, if not actually encouraging, these despicable actors. 

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