Saturday, July 28, 2012

"You Are What You Put On Tape"

I'm going to say two words:  Penn State.  And now you know what I'm going to discuss.  Or at least you think you do.  For about the past 70 or so years, you'd expect I'm about to discuss football.  For the past 50 years, probably Joe Paterno.  Well, I suppose those things are still true.

The title of this post is a quote from the coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mike Tomlin.  And what it means to say is that simply, on game day, it doesn't matter what you intended to do, or what your plan or intent was, or what you feel like or think your actions achieved.  What you performed achieved a concrete result, and it's there for everyone to see.

So let's start with the basics.  This is not a story about football; it's a story about sex.  Illicit criminal sex.  And as is usually the case with sex, only the people who were involved in the sex really know what happened.  And that's the heart of all the controversy with Penn State - who really knew what happened?

This we know - former football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky raped numerous boys on numerous occasions, over a period of many years.  This has been accepted as fact by a jury of his peers in a court of law.  By all evidence he did so on the grounds of Penn State University, using his position as an esteemed member of that institution to attract and entrap his victims.

This puts the university in a position of liability for its harboring of Sandusky, and it has called into question who among his superiors knew of his criminal activity, and what they did or didn't do to cease and prevent it.

And there, as I said, only the people who were there really know what happened.  And the most famous of them, Joe Paterno is now dead, and can say no more.

Now, most of them are going to face their own days in court for this, because they appear to have perjured themselves before an investigating Grand Jury in the leadup to pressing charges against Sandusky.  And that's fine, because the court will have its due process.  But the university commissioned its own independent investigation to be headed by an esteemed member of the law community and former director of the FBI, Louis Freeh.  And the Freeh Report appears to confirm the public's suspicions, based most tellingly on various e-mails exchanged among Sandusky's superiors, that everyone knew - especially Joe Paterno - and they covered it up to protect their own interests.

Appeared to confirm the public's suspicions - let me get back to that in awhile.

Since the report has come out, the NCAA has levied sanctions against Penn State's football team which effectively strip away everything it - and Joe Paterno - entered into record since suspicions of Sandusky's activity first came into evidence in 1998.  Let me say, I believe the NCAA got it wrong. Their justification of their punishment of Penn State is that Penn State made glorifying football success too important in its culture... but then they punished Penn State by removing football success from its record.  Does that not make football success appear to take on even more importance?  They punished the dead man by removing his name from their record books, as a response to the public's revised image of that dead man.  Ah, there's the public again.

The NCAA's response - and remember, the NCAA was not entitled to do anything to Penn State since it only oversees athletics - appears to have been based on the Freeh Report.  Now the defenders of the university and Paterno state their case.  The Freeh Report is flawed, they point out - it's independent, incomplete, not given due process of law.  Not everyone was interviewed.  Paterno is dead, no one can possibly know the truth of what he knew or did not; what he did or did not.

And on and on the lawyers will do their dance for years to come.

I think back to something I saw in 2001 that stayed with me.  Michael Jackson was about to release his first studio album in ten years, Invincible.  By this time, this album would reintroduce the King Of Pop to a younger audience, those who had only been children by the time he'd already ascended his throne, a generation who knew him not as a musical prodigy, but as "Wacko Jacko."  CNN interviewed people on the streets of Los Angeles, and I will never forget one young lady's response - "I think it's really good for him, considering he had to go to jail and all that."

Michael Jackson never went to jail.  But she'd assumed and believed that he had.

So that's my point about Penn State, and Paterno.  The lawyers can do all they need to.  The story won't end for a long time.  Anyone who wants to defend Paterno, including his family and his players, can certainly do so and may yet be proven correct.  But it looks like he knew everything, and it looks like he protected Sandusky, and that may be everything anyone ever chooses to understand.

You are what you put on tape.  Deeds, not words.  I think it's worth remembering.  You don't have to be a famous coach, or a star of any kind - it applies to all of us.  It may not stand up to due process, and it may not be fair, but ultimately those things may not matter.

I'm done now.

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