When the Piling On Is Over

I’ve tried mightily to resist. The issues regarding my alma mater have been beaten to death in so many places, by so many people, so many times that it seems pointless to add another few words. But the resistance has lost.

My intended focus, however, is on what we as a society will do with the experience, and more so with how we will have handled the experience after a few months or years will have passed. Presently, the very suggestion that there needs to be a bit of perspective brought to the discussion is itself met with charges of being soft on child sexual predators, having head securely buried in sand, having drunk the Penn State Kool-Aid, ya-da-ya-da-ya-da. The idea that some semblance of perspective is needed is obvious to anyone associated with the Penn State University and to anyone else who cares about the kind of people we would like to be in this culture.

There is due outrage, to be sure. First, outrage toward Jerry Sandusky; then outrage that seems to be of an even higher order directed at those individuals singled out as having worked diligently to cover up the facts of the incidents. Even if all the interpretations included in the Freeh report are true (there is reason to question some of the findings as under-determined by the evidence), the rate at which people have been lining up to paint everyone associated with Penn State as somehow complicit in the events is staggering. If we weren’t directly involved, all of us are at least deemed guilty of being suckers for the fraud of the football program and its evil, conniving head coach (right, David Jones? Jason Whitlock?).

For the record, I am not returning my degree in protest. I’m not even relinquishing my season tickets. Penn State, contrary to the cynical remarks made even by people in the state, is not football. Not even close. It has been, and remains, a world-class university with a half million graduates serving in all corners of the world in all disciplines. We studied there as much, and in some cases as little, as students anywhere else. We had competent professors, more than adequate facilities and resources; we debated the issues of the day, formed lasting friendships, argued inconclusively at ridiculous hours of the morning, got into trouble, went streaking, protested the Vietnam War and the government research contracts. And on a few Saturdays in the fall term, we gathered for the fun of a major college football game, played by guys who really were fellow students. And it hasn’t changed all that much (for the good of all, the streaking craze didn’t last). The suggestion, however, that Penn State is all about football is an affront to every professor and administrator who did her or his job in teaching, and to every student who buckled down enough to graduate and contribute to family, community, and society. Football was an event, a big one; but it wasn’t (and isn’t) the sum total of college for anyone. Personally, it was the place where I was introduced to the intellectual history and vitality of Christianity, a discovery without which my faith would have evaporated. It’s special. So we continue going back, yes for a good football game and the whole aura of those fall Saturdays, but also because of our unwillingness to relinquish ties to what is really Penn State.

The ranters would also have it that Penn State should not be allowed to play football again, at least for a few seasons. So in order to properly punish a deceased man, a displaced president, and two other administrators, we should take away the employment of hundreds of other people, damage the businesses of scores of others, and take away the scholarships of players now on the team, forcing them to disrupt their education to go elsewhere. For maybe the first and only time, I find myself in agreement with James Carville on that one. But if that would undue the damage done to the boys once under Sandusky’s terror, so be it; alas, it would not.

But let’s get back to that perspective question. What will we have found out about ourselves as a society when there has been a little more distance between the horrible events (and the mishandling thereof) and our thoughts about them? For one, I would hope that we will have learned that sportswriters make lousy moral authorities. It is sickeningly ironic that some of the very ones who decry the importance of sports in our cultural life are the ones who have taken it upon themselves to make sure it stays that way. And the same ones are unsatisfied to tell us what happens on the field, but assume the right to tell us what ought to be done about any and all of the moral issues that arise, all, of course, without ever studying ethics, logic, moral reasoning, etc.

More importantly, I trust we will have been reminded that we are moral creatures, and are so necessarily by nature. There are very few taboos remaining in our culture; most of the ones largely recognized by all have to do with sexuality, particularly with children. We are right to react against violations such as those committed by Sandusky, and against efforts to shield the discovery and prosecutions thereof. But are these the only (dare I use the term) sins that disturb us? Could it be that our moral instincts have so atrophied that little other than the most obvious violations arouse our disapproval?

And perhaps we will be bold enough to learn to be honest with ourselves. We are all both capable of significant good, heroic, and altruistic actions and yet prone to great darkness at the same time. In Luther’s terms, simul justus et peccator, simultaneously just and sinful. We don’t handle this well about ourselves or about other people. We want to read all the good things in light of the evil deeds others have done (David Jones, Patriot News, loves this approach); or we minimize the evil and view it as insignificant in light of the good. We wear the mantle of moral judge poorly, undoubtedly because it is the vestment of another greater than ourselves. We would do well to remember this, even as we attempt to discern where the violations are and what must be done about them for the betterment of all.

And, as has been noted by many commentators, we should hope to have learned to take better care of and more interest in the welfare and treatment of others. One wonders how things might have been different if this had been a concern a little more than a generation ago, when Jerry was young. Who did things to him about which he may have been told to be quiet, as was the approach of a not-so-long-ago time? Monsters are seldom born; they are created. Let’s not make any more of them and do what grace allows to transform those in the process of being made.

14 thoughts on “When the Piling On Is Over

  1. I share in your outrage. I am a lifetime Hawkeye fan, who learned to appreciate and even love PSU not only for its accomplishments on the field, but for the general human quality of the athletes it turned out. To this day my loyalties are to the Old Gold and Black as well as the Blue and White, even though for the last 7 years I live in SEC country. Vandy is a fine, all be it overly liberal, college that has no business being a SEC school and if one bleeds Tennessee Orange they long ago bled to death.

    Even the Nashville “Tennessean’s” local cynic passing as a sports writer/columnist makes a weekly rant for the imposition of the ‘death penalty’. To do so would be the death of the innocent on a scale unmatched since Herod’s slaughter of the innocents. Student athletes, none of whom were students at PSU when the atrocities happened. The tarnishing of the reputations of faculty, administrators, and even students that have nothing to do with the football program and again many were not even there at the time. Then there are the merchants and vendors for whom the athletic program is their lifeblood. Remember that without the revenues from PSU football all of its athletic programs will suffer.

    Sandusky is in jail, Joe PA is dead, the president s disgraced unemployed and still may be charged. To me the guilty have been punished and the inquisition has begun. If this is not nipped now the blood letting will rival that of the French Revolution. I fear that to be associated with PSU will result in the the same kind of treatment as I suffered as a Viet Nam returnee, to be called a baby killer and worse. The pseudo outrage of the ‘morally offended’ is becoming an even greater outrage.

    • I have a suspicion that we have become so morally insecure in ourselves that we virtually celebrate the occasions when someone obviously worse than ourselves shows up. It awakens the dormant moral sense, as I suggested in the post. But when armchair ethicists take on themselves the duty of public pronouncement to a waiting crowd of morally confused people, whip them into an unreasoned frenzy, and demand action be taken, measured and thoughtful response is unlikely to carry the day. No student-athletes were involved, no competitive advantage was gained, and no funds were used inappropriately. It would seem a violation of a fundamental principle of any jurisprudence to inflict punishment on those who do not bear responsibility for wrongs; yet I fear it may happen nonetheless.

      • As to the last sentence. Fortunately that is not for you or I to determine, that is for the NCAA to determine for the benefit of all of its institutions and for the long view, an organization that was voluntarily entered into by PSU. I think you should sign up right now for whatever the NCAA does, they are the authority here, just like we sign up for what the PA superior court has done with Sadusky, or the PSU4. Why the problem with authority? One might make the argument of Socrates here: If PSU has for so long benefitted from the NCAA, in fact influenced it through Paterno, why reject its judgment now?

    • Actually the President is still employed. And I think there are at least two indicted individuals have yet to be tried and IF found guilty punished. I may have missed the guillotine being discussed but i think 30,000 Roman Catholic priests are not set for execution in Happy Valley. I would say this is more akin to the Roman Catholic Church pedophile (ongoing) issues, which resulted in the bankruptcies of many parishes for (as it is enshrined in US financial law) “failure to manage”. The institutions simply did not do the right thing, and innocent parishioners suffered.

      Now let’s think about that for a moment. I’ll bet (having talked to them) that those parishioners are angry, I’ll bet that the amount of accounting for time, place, action is much higher in a lot of diocese today. The concept of “duty of care” has been extended.

      Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all the athletic programs who have voluntarily submitted to the authority of the NCAA, decided that the whole concept of a “cover up” is a bad idea.

      Maybe there is a janitor in Nashville, or Knoxville, or Peekskill, or Fayetville who will now come forward and not fear for their job.

  2. You are no longer permitted to say “I am not going to talk about this anymore”, you’ve recanted on that too many times.

    My Captain, My Captain, I’m going to try a couple of responses to your posting, but I’d like to start with your quasi ethical postion below, and ask doesn’t punishment always hurt others? And isn’t that the point in the design of community, family, relationships?

    If I am arrested for DUI and goto prison for a year, lose my job, which might cause my employer to suffer, hinder putting bread on the table, etc. isn’t this normal?

    While you are a righteous man, in the temptation of sin, I (and others from their private admissions) would admit to having been “stayed” from commission (or even moved to act thereby dodging omission) of sin by consideration of parents, spouse, children, etc. Last night we talked about the “infantalism of Evangelicalism” and along with my rejection of Servant/Leader I have some questions on the WWJD motif. He would have done what the Father asked him preserving the purity of that right relationship. Quite frankly in my temptations of the past, I would both quote a proverb AND think about my family.

    When justice is meted out to others isn’t the point that we should remember this so that we might fear to do it again? And isn’t that the point of all enforcement?

    Now when we setup institutions, (and in US jurisprudence, they are actually people), and they are corrupt, don’t they deserve judgement? How am I to take Jesus’ generalizations, his broad brush strokes: “hypocrites”, “vipers”, “filled with dead men’s bones”, concerning the Pharisees, the Sadducess, the lawyers, pretty much all the institutions of his day? How do apply the metaphor of Revelation, or the negotiation of Abraham Re Sodom. Institutions are judged on occasion in our culture by appropriate enforcers, and sometimes not only do both the innocent and the maybe-not-innocent get hurt, sometimes they get the death penalty.

    The general concept here is “collective punishment”, it is something that is currently decried, but it is something that we see throughout the scripture, that our forefathers clearly enforced as late as in WW2. It is part of a right ethos not a wrong one.

    I wonder if the PSU4 didn’t make a similiar discursive argument in the coverup, so much would be harmed (including themselves) for the Sadusky story to get out. Let’s not move forward.

    “The ranters would also have it that Penn State should not be allowed to play football again, at least for a few seasons. So in order to properly punish a deceased man, a displaced president, and two other administrators, we should take away the employment of hundreds of other people, damage the businesses of scores of others, and take away the scholarships of players now on the team, forcing them to disrupt their education to go elsewhere. For maybe the first and only time, I find myself in agreement with James Carville on that one. But if that would undue the damage done to the boys once under Sandusky’s terror, so be it; alas, it would not.”

    PS: I don’t think the head of the NCAA as a ranter, but on PBS he certainly said that everything is on the table concerning enforcement, and they hasn’t seen anything this bad ever (in so many words).

    • I’ll comment on just one piece of this here. I am not at all convinced that Jesus was railing against the institution of scribal and legal work, but against the attitudes of many who occupied the positions within them. Institutions are not corrupt except as corrupt individuals act are their behalf. Jesus did not suggest, to my mind, that the scriptures should not be studied diligently, searched painstakingly, etc. When it was done for personal profit another dynamic was at work–a sinful one.

      • And yet for how long did they continue to exist? Is in fact the whole train of Hillel and Shimmai the basis of our fundamental creeds, our ethical systems, our “secular law”. The answer I believe is no.

  3. Ken,

    As you know, we had a dozen or more apple trees in our yard in Chapel and I must’ve heard a thousand times, “one bad apple spoils the whole bunch”. If you pluck the apple out quickly, the better the chance of saving the rest, if left to linger, it spoils the whole basket. And thus, the legacy of Sandusky.

    Businesses suffer when their leaders make poor decisions and even more so when caught, indicted, legal or illegal, moral or immoral, public or hidden. The business suffers and hence, the employees. PSU leadership made a “business” decision to not expose Sandusky, they let it linger, did not address it, resolve it, or stand against it. They are complicit in their inactions, much the same as the Catholic Church. None of it was one bad decision – it was a decision every day to allow it to continue. The sad thing (criminal?) is that their business decision added to the list of Sandusky victims. Institutional responsibly does not align with moral or criminal responsibility.

    In the end, the market will decide if they trust that PSU has now made the right decisions; enrollment, attendance, recruitment, state funding. The extent to which their business is affected will be the story. Punishment by the law or scholastic / athletic entities will also influence their business – yep – it happens in all industries. Business leaders make poor decisions, stockholders and employees suffer.
    I have no enmity towards the institution or the football program; I have cousins, sons, brothers, friends, and coworkers that are alumni and I would not choose to alienate any of them. If those that closed their eyes to the situation, or allowed it linger, or did not act to protect the children, are duly processed and not in a position to ignore or shrug off these kinds of situations again, I will have to be content. My opinions on other punishments, suspensions, or fines influence no one.

    • Doesn’t it depend what business it is? If you’re AIG or one of the major banks the gov’t will actually come to your rescue, in spite of the carelessness and callousness of your decisions. In a case like this, the collateral damage can be minimized without allowing the guilty to go free and without giving any sense that serious matters will be allowed to go on with impunity. We haven’t yet taken care of any city’s crime problem by dropping bombs on entire neighborhoods. I expect good leadership to be concerned with justice for all to the extent possible. If anyone outside the small circle knew about this situation at PSU (and not all of the incidents occurred there) and turned away, it is a VERY small number of people.

      But I’m one of the supposedly out of touch people who looks for bad things and bad people to find a redemptive way forward rather than making sure everyone outraged gets their pound of flesh. Yes, maybe I’m a dreamer. Or a believer.

      • Your a dreamer, because you believe that large groups of unredeemed people using “secular” institutions (whatever secular means) in the midst of continuing revelations of its last big cultural taboo/crime (outside of gay bashing) by a series of people/institutions setup as ultimate good and different than the average people/institution (for years by fawning press and syncophants) will move beyond retributive means that are enshrined in US law, State law, the Bible, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Hollywood, and in that book they had to read in High School: Lord of the Flies.

        So in Batman as Jesus theology, what truly innocent party is going to step up and freely and absolutely take on the responsibility of creating a redemptive path?

        Or in the SA metaphor, who will be Mandela and say “I suffered”, “I forgive”, “you must forgive, but it will be rightly remembered”?

        Lastly, you think this is a small group of people, what is small here? How many people turned a blind eye and said nothing when things should be said. Aside from the PSU4 we have one janitor directly, and his friends indirectly, so let’s say 10. No one else saw or heard anything else? I’d say more likely the culture was deeply corrupt, including the Football program if we are to believe the former enforcement dean, or the fact they wouldn’t take training, or my personal experiences there, or others that I’ve talked to, and that a LOT of people knew but were either afraid or motivated to say nothing and do nothing. Plausible deniability is a wonderful thing.

        I’ll take the Lutherian ethical approach and say this is a fallen world, there is no saving or redeeming that institution ever, the outcome is less than adequate, what’s new. Now, can I redeem my relationship with my wife, my son, my Mother, can I help the redemptive process of a family in my Church/Neighborhood. PSU never moved forward the Kingdom on its very best day (the great Christian speaker/event on Saturday would always be zeroed out with the morning after pills given out in the clinic Saturday morning for instance), but my next door neighbors do and will.

        Proverbs 29:12 If a ruler hearken to lies, all his servants are wicked.

      • And he also talked about pearls before swine, shaking the dust out of shoes. Applying the whole counsel of God, through the leading of the Holy Spirit in the context of tradition, and the culture is hard enough with my neighbor, family and church. I do not agree with the supremes, that colorations are people. They can and should be abandoned, as appropriate, they do not enjoy the metaphor of redemption, they are soulless, I will not see them in heaven. And I suspect that at the end of life they do play for some in that existential admission, ” I wish I had spent more time with my family, and less with xyz.”

      • institutions at the core are the structures we create to manage our relationships, beginning but not ending with family. We, not the inanimate structures, do it well or poorly; we use them for the greater good or usurp them for personal, private gain. But we cannot manage without them. Rom. 13, in my view, is not only about political structures, but all forms of authority necessitated by the complexity of human relationships. That some of them will get so badly skewed as to work against the very functions they were created to serve is inevitable because of sin–committed by persons operating through those structures. The new Jerusalem coming down is still a city, with structures of some (fully redeemed) kind, because the will be handled by fully redeemed people.

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