The Fall Of St. Joe

Friday, November 11, 2011


Until this week, Penn State coach Joe Paterno was the epitome of everything that was right with college athletics. A sex abuse scandal that has spread to the entire university has changed all that. Paterno has been fired for allegedly failing to report abuse by a former assistant coach to police and his legacy has gone from 'St. Joe' to disgrace. Bob talks with Paterno biographer Frank Fitzpatrick. 


William Tyler - Cult of the Peacock Angel

Comments [15]

Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

I guess innocent until proven guilty no longer obtains but it surely seems way too early in public disclosure to act as if all the shoes have dropped here. Meanwhile, I echo and paraphrase Jonathan Karl on This Week, ''Why were those teams playing football Saturday? Do they still want to play in a bowl game?'

All sports are now suspect but, then again, so is all civilization.

I recall vividly the reporter who kept pointing out that any village in Afghanistan where Karzai's government took hold the first thing that happened was that their boys were all raped until news programs stopped inviting him.

Meanwhile, in defense of non-intervening witnesses, David Brooks trotted out the so-called Kitty Genovese situation, as if people hadn't heard that story demolished, including here at OTM, long ago. I would have stopped it!

Nov. 17 2011 08:46 PM
Nevitt Reesor from Austin, TX

Unlike most of those listed on this page who have commented on the issue, I suspect it is true that there are some people who are incapable of resisting certain anti-social drives. In fact, this seems well-established in the case of certain sexual offenders, which is the reason the worst are sometimes subjected to involuntary medical "correction." Whether Sandusky is among those who are truly incapable of resisting their impulses is a matter to be decided by medical and psychological professionals.
My complaint against Bob, then, is not for his apparently excusing Sandusky's behavior (which I'm sure Bob did not really intend to do), but for his sanctimonious (to use his description of Paterno's disciples) condemnation of those witnesses who did too little or nothing at all. If Bob is going to appeal to this sort of biological determinism in the case of a sexual predator, why does he not apply the same reasoning to the others involved? He characterized the witnesses as clear-eyed, self-interested observers, who knew the right thing to do and chose with cold, calculating rationality not to do so. This is just ridiculous! ... absurd! Those who remained silent almost certainly did so for strongly emotional reasons: fear, anxiety, self-preservation (which is not the same as cold self-interest), etc. These impulses are just as powerful as any sexual drive, and are surely more common. So, if there is any excuse for Sandusky on the grounds of biological determinism, those who witnessed his deeds deserve to be excused even more. Or logically negating this claim, if we are not going to excuse the witnesses, neither should we excuse Sandusky.
Even if it is true that some people are completely unable to resist certain anti-social impulses, society has an interest in rendering those people harmless. To the degree that perpetrators cannot control themselves, they do not deserve to be punished. Nevertheless, they must be forcibly isolated from those social environments in which they can do harm. This is just as true for the witnesses as for Sandusky. Determinism makes punishment immoral, but it also makes some sort of definitive practical social response necessary.

Nov. 16 2011 04:58 PM

I signed up specifically to comment on Bob's statement, as noted by many. The idea that Bob was so quick to define Sandusky's behavior as an inability to exercise free will is truly alarming. Then to use that viewpoint to make McCreary--the "well" person, I guess--more culpable than the rapist is totally unacceptable as a framework for discussion. Do it over, please, and stick to the facts of what you know about pedophilia, not what you perhaps wish to be true.

Nov. 14 2011 10:09 PM
Dissapointed Listener

Bob's pronouncement that pedophiles are "born that way" appears to be a few step ahead of the medical establishment. I find that sort of 'reporting' utterly disappointing coming from a meta-journalist and I look forward to his correction.

Nov. 14 2011 12:59 PM

I was infuriated to hear Bob define pedophiles as people born with bad impulses whose job it is to fight those impulses, and when they fail it's "horrible".
This particular theory implies an alarming level of innocence and helplessness on their part, and frankly this characterization disgusts me.
It denies the agency, intelligence and deliberate intent of many pedophiles. They often groom their victims over long periods of time or build their lives around having access to children with a full understanding of what they are doing. Many times they have resources at their disposal - resources through which they could seek help, and they do not.
In fact, this description of pedophiles runs along the lines of a rapist saying he could not control himself because his victim dressed provocatively.
There are deep psychological issues at work with pedophiles, and dismissing them as weak willed people with bad impulses excuses their behavior and portrays them as just as much victims as they children they deliberately victimize.
Many people, all the time, everywhere have sexual impulses they do not act on. Pedophiles alone are not "afflicted" with these. They ruin people's lives and harm them in immeasurable, profound ways. Let's not pretend they just can't help themselves.

Nov. 14 2011 11:54 AM
Greg Slater

Why wasn't Paterno arrested, if his co-conspirators in the university administration were?

Nov. 14 2011 02:32 AM

"The focus of the media has been on Paterno and Penn State when it should be squarely on Sandusky."

Nope. The focus, just like the abuses that occurred in the Catholic Church, should be on the "religion" or "institution" that fostered sick behavior.

The entire "game" of FOOTBALL is sick. No surprise that truly disgusting abuses arise from it. Expect more examples to emerge.

Nov. 13 2011 09:47 PM
Brian Masck from Flushing, Michigan

The "media" has created a parallel between the Penn State scandal and the Catholic priest sex abuse scandals, however, I think that is only one of the ways to put the story in societal context. Missing from all news coverage of the sad Penn State story is how it perfectly mimics the current power dynamic in Washington.

We should recognize that the power-driven failure of Joe Paterno over the Penn State University community is a small-scale example of the power-driven ills not yet fully exposed by the "1%" who influence Washington to create laws, institute practices and create policies that are destructive to the 99%. Such ills have breathed life into both the Tea Party and the OWS movement.

Back in May, Joseph Stiglitz wrote in Vanity Fair, "Americans have been watching protests against oppressive regimes that concentrate massive wealth in the hands of an elite few. Yet in our own democracy, 1 percent of the people take nearly a quarter of the nation’s income—an inequality even the wealthy will come to regret. The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late."

Nov. 13 2011 07:56 PM
Marty Murphy from Brooklyn, NY

I take issue with your quick comparison of the Joe Paterno tragedy with events in the Catholic Church over the last decade. Why does the media always go to the CC for a parallel? If you did your home work, you would see a more relevant example closer to home.

According to "First Things" magazine/blog: “(T)he 2009 Annual Report prepared for the Catholic bishops by an independent auditor identifies an average of 21 allegations of childhood sexual abuse per year in the American Catholic Church for the current decade, with this number dropping to six allegations in 2009. The 2007 Associated Press investigation identifies 2570 public school teachers who, from 2001 through 2005, had their teaching licenses “taken away, denied, surrendered voluntarily, or restricted” as a result of sexual misconduct with minors — an average of 514 per year.”

Nov. 13 2011 04:05 PM
Kerry Mosser from Austin, Texas

I was sorta shocked to hear the twist in this story. Sandusky is just weak willed? Really? Sexual promiscuity , in any form is easiest and most privately provided at ones home or hotel. Afflicted? Sandusky was using his position of power and access to bring in, exploit and rape children in the locker room and showers of a major NCAA Football team? Talk about power going to your head. The coordination and timing that would be required, access to facilities and children, power and complicity to keep it quiet for so long, DA on the case is just As I am tying this I wonder; how far into this story are you going to go?

Nov. 13 2011 02:55 PM
Ali "THE FACT CHECKER" from Somewhere in Texas, USA

Please, Bob and Brooks, shame on both of you. The most important issues missing from all discussions are two things: a) Corrupt college football Division-I in this country and b) low moral values in our educational system. For God's sake, this happened in a prestige educational setting; where were our educators? The problem is not only in Penn State, when Harvard president asked Mr. C. West to teach; he packed his stuffs and moved to Princeton. His (Mr. West) duties were to teach not selling his line of Clothing!!! This type of attitude that personal gain (in this case “Joe P. legacy) is common practice all over higher education. The educators are more concerns about their images and legacies rather than teaching us moral values and responsibilities.
The media should use this "very awful" incident and raised two questions: a) Division-I college football should be investigated by FBI for corruption, hand-outs and other matters and b) What has happened to higher education in this country that bunch of educators would choose such immoral path and ignore the signs. I expected more from your let us down by not raising those questions!!!

Nov. 13 2011 02:00 PM
reginald mcdonald from san francisco

I am not a "sports guy" so I don't really understand the hero worship that goes into a person who does a good job. That being said, what I do understand is the lore and temptation of money in sports or any other wealthy/powerful organization.

Some of the things in the grand jury report that Bob and the reporter didn't mention in this segment, the same asst coach was caught in the same shower with an 11 year old. The cops were called and the case was dropped. After the rape of the 10 year old the asst. coach had his keys taken away but he retained access to the school. In fact the program he founded, giving him unfettered access to children, ran out of Penn State after both the cases of sexual assault sighted above, one of which the police knew about.

I am firmly in the camp of those who have survived sexual abuse. I don't give a damn about Paterno or Penn State's winning record.

If perhaps, the (mostly) men who watch these sports including the police and the oh so proud community had been a little less reverential they may have actual done what Paterno seemed incapable of doing.

It does not matter what good works you do if in the moment of greatest crisis you fail as a human being. These are the moments that define us all.

In this, Joe Paterno and everyone who swept this under the rug is a failure.

Full stop.

Nov. 13 2011 01:40 PM
Jill Taylor

You refer to Sandusky as "afflicted" and having a "sickness" and conclude that he is some how less culpable than the Penn State administration. He is no more "afflicted" or "sick" than a serial date rapist who takes advantage of women because he can. Sandusky is totally responsible for his actions which were premeditated and which he continues to deny. He is more responsible than anyone else in this whole mess. Do not even attempt to excuse his behavior!
The focus of the media has been on Paterno and Penn State when it should be squarely on Sandusky.

Nov. 13 2011 10:04 AM

In this interview, Bob says that pedophiles are 'born this way.' While I understand the larger point he was making, I don't think we know why pedophiles act this way (the nature vs. nurture debate), so it would be better to avoid a statement that makes it seem like we do.

Nov. 12 2011 08:29 PM
Joe Carlson

Yes, those in the white coats define pedophilia as a "psychiatric disorder of adult personality and behavior" which, I guess, makes it a "sickness" of sorts. But the white-coaters probably have a "disorder" on file for most of what we do in life, including yours-truly's occasional failure to recycle my daily newspaper. I prefer to leave this matter in the hands of lawyers, both criminal and civil, and let them do their stuff.

Nov. 12 2011 06:46 AM

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