Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Worst Things About the Sandusky Scandal Penn State, besides (obviously) the fact that so many kids were hurt, and people didn't go straight to law enforcement over it, are as follows:

1. That the sincerity of the fans is being called into question. Yes, we're sad that our beloved team and institution is involved in this. Yes, we still like them, and no we're not personally responsible. (Those who were responsible will receive justice, too late for some unfortunately. That's how we do it in the civilized world, not by blaming all members of the same tribe for something they didn't do.) Yes, we're wearing blue on Saturday, a team color and the color of sexual abuse survivors. This is so terrible and phony? What's the morally superior action then? Should we pretend nothing happened? Should we all sit at home weeping in dark rooms or beating ourselves bloody in shame? No, we shouldn't, because here's a fantastic opportunity to get the message out that sexual abuse remains a horrible problem. If hundreds of thousands of Penn Staters do not wear blue this weekend, we've wasted that opportunity.

2. That some idiot students didn't realize the one thing they could do to further besmirch the school was to riot. Thanks guys.

3. That sports journos who always had an axe to grind with Paterno, and/or just see a chance to write a controversial article to get their name out there, are villifying the entire history of the man and the program. Really: as a consumer of sports media, I ask you to read these articles closely. If concern for protecting children is what this is all about (and it should be), then you'll notice that surprisingly, many of these articles are surprisingly devoid of all but the most perfunctory expressions of empathy.

4. That a team and figure not incorrectly associated with fairness and decency will forever have this association. Programs not nearly as clean as PSU will roll their eyes when they see how Paterno ended up and say, "See? All those years of throwing people off the team for getting caught with drugs or having bad grades amounted to nothing. Let's go take steroids and beat prostitutes." Paterno made a huge mistake, but I fail to see how that makes every act throughout his career evil, and I especially fail to see how villifying him will help serve justice or protect kids in the future.

Humans are often bad at moral thinking, and this scandal has exposed that - and unfortunately not just in decision-makers at Penn State, but in the public's reactions to it, and misplaced demand for shame in people who did nothing wrong and are trying to make the best of a bad situation. Penn Staters, our ashamed silence right now does not help anyone. There's nothing moral in sitting idly by and indulging the media's moral chest-thumpers who seem to think that the ruination of these kids' lives can be undone by impugning the motives of Penn Staters who had nothing to do with the tragedy. To put a point on it: imagine that after 9/11, a citizen of Jordan (where several of the hijackers came from) went on a U.S. speaking tour to argue for tolerance and non-violence, to show the world that the vast majority of Jordanians and Muslims are not homocidal maniacs. Would he have been insincere and immoral? What would have been the more moral act, for him to stay home and hang his head in shame just because he happened to share his religion and country of birth with a few evil men, or go out into the world and try to make things better and keep the same thing from happening again? I keep reading articles about how shameful it is that PSU's players are still focused on beating Nebraska. So what should they do? Forfeit the game? Lose intentionally? Would that take away these kids' suffering? And why just the football team, how about Penn State employees, like the facilities people who prepare the field every week, or the stadium janitorial staff, should they all shirk their duties or mope around with heads down while they do it? Would that help?

Once kids are safe and justice is underway, then there's nothing immoral about Penn State fans increasing awareness of the problem that caused this. Once kids are safe and justice is underway, there's nothing immoral about Penn Staters being concerned with the school's reputation. What's most moral now is making sure justice is served, and doing whatever we can to keep this from ever happening again. Part of that is increasing awareness of the problem, which the blue-out will do. Browbeating the team, the fans, and alums will not accomplish this, it will only distract.

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