Monday, July 23, 2012

Penn State: 'Question What It Is You Revere'

Shortly after I posted about Penn State this morning, Daniel Victor—media maven, Penn State alum, and (from what I know of him) all-around good guy—tweeted:

That's a great point.

Here's the underlying truth for me: I advocate harsh punishment for Penn State largely because I don't actually believe that Paterno, Spanier, etc. were all that unusual in their failure to report Jerry Sandusky. I am terrified by how banal evil can be, how easily bureaucratized and accommodated, and the truth is that I don't fully trust myself to be an exception to this rule. I advocate a harsh punishment because I suspect it will provided a much-needed jolt to the consciences of the vast majority of us who usually go along to get along. The pain of accommodation needs to exceed the the reluctance to rock the boat.

As a young reporter in Lawrence, Kansas, I covered a case where two players on the University of Kansas football team were accused of sexually assaulting a female soccer player, who was from Europe. Uncertain of how to navigate the matter, the player went to her coach, who in turn took her to then-KU football coach Terry Allen, who promised to take care of it.

He made the players run bleachers as punishment. For an alleged sex assault.

Eventually the soccer player figured out what had happened, and went to police. But it was months after the assault, and prosecutors never brought charges. The culture all too easily accommodated sex assault, and Coach Allen wasn't even fired over the incident—he later lost his job because the team kept losing.

This isn't restricted to football. We in Philadelphia have seen, close-up, how the culture of the Catholic Church protected dozens of abusive priests. A "culture of reverence" that allows for abuses isn't just a Penn State thing, it's not just a sports thing—or even a winning sports thing. It's a human thing.

It's why I feel very bad for my Penn State friends today, even though I've made some of them very angry at me. A harsh punishment for the Nittany Lion program will demonstrate a committment to one thing we're supposed to revere—the innocence of children, and our duty to protect them from evil.

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