The Choices We Make…and Don’t Make


Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

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104 Responses

  1. Avatar Ryan Bonneville says:

    Nicely put. This is something I’ve been thinking about all morning.Report

    • Thanks.  Me too.  That passage of yours put the finger on what has been bugging me the most about this the last few days.Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

        Exc post, MarkT.  Add rationalization—Paterno no doubt convinced himself he’d discharged his moral duty by kicking it upstairs.  To do any more would have created a bigger mess, and Lord knows if our brains are good for anything, it’s rationalizing our acts and failures.

        According to this [Drudge’s top story]

        it could get a lot uglier.  Also interesting is that Sandusky was probably an “open secret” in the college f’ball community–

        “My opinion is when Sandusky quit, everybody knew — not just at Penn State,” Madden added. “I think it was a very poorly kept secret about college football in general, and that is why he never coached in college football again and retired at the relatively young age of 55. [That’s] young for a coach, certainly.”Report

  2. Avatar mark boggs says:

    Yes, replace the word “university” with “party” or “country” and you get the same kind of mindless allegiance from many.  The kind of allegiance that treats the institution as ultimately more important than the ideals it claims to cherish and uphold.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      Or “church”? Lots of Catholics have felt this way about their parish priests, bishops, cardinals, etc. Moral leaders in their communities, people who they looked up to and respected and who, for the most part, earned that respect.

      And then this happens.

      But really, how is the desire to continue apothesizing Paterno in light of his formidable legacy any different than apologizing for the Church? Or Ben Roethlisberger?Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        don’t get me started on Ben. There are MILES of difference between “good guy” and “rapist”. Even if you’re a steelers fan, the man’s conduct falls well into the category of “asshole”, if not “rapist we can’t legally prosecute” (then again, I’ve noted things about some of the Palin’s family…)Report

      • Avatar mark boggs says:

        I suppose it all comes down to the same thing ultimately with these institutions (although the ones that claim to have a closer connection with “the truth” than others, e.g. churches or political ideologies, have more at stake), admit to one misstep or misdeed and the whole aura of perfection and infallibility gets trashed.


  3. Avatar Kimmi says:

    Tell me, sir. What would you do? It is 2007. You know that John Edwards had a mistress, and she had a baby. Do you tell him off? Do you try and persuade him not to run? Do you throw him to the papers? (replace with Ahnold if you’re republican.)

    People “in the know” know about all sorts of predilictions and misdoings. Things that are just awful (abject, if “willing” slavery), to things that while (probably?) legal, would ruin someone forever.

    The fun of it would be if someone would squeal — on everyone at once.

    ain’t that what wikileaks is for?Report

    • Avatar James K says:

      I wouldn’t hesitate to throw a libertarian-leaning politician under the bus if I knew a dark secret of theirs.  If I were tempted not to do so for reasons of fellow-feeling I’d remind myself that secrets like this inevitably get loose, and it’ll do less damage to the libertarian brand if the scandal happens to a candidate and not a sitting politician.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Obviously, the best thing to do is to find the critics of this politician and make jokes about how they “blow goats”.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Even a capric fellator is right twice a day.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          He wasn’t particularly capric until he pointed out that Edwards had a love child.

          He was attacked for bringing up things that didn’t even have sources… but that he knew were true anyway.

          One of the things that makes reading Hunter Thompson interesting is that he tells you the stuff that “real” reporters only tell you in the bar.

          Kaus was telling us stuff that was true. He was attacked for that… and then everything else came to light and the MSM had to explain why they got scooped.

          Kaus wasn’t the bad guy but was treated like a bad guy because, tah-dah, he blew a whistle. If Kaus had been more “loyal”, he’d have…


          • Avatar Kimmi says:

            what’s amusing is that I know a guy who knows, it seems, practically all the inside stories.

            I think his best line was “I didn’t mean to write an episode of Seinfeld” (did it without knowing the characters’ names, either).Report

    • Honestly – asking the question “what would you do if….” misses the point here.  Indeed, the whole point of this is largely that the answer to that question is irrelevant to how we would actually act.  That doesn’t excuse acting improperly, it means that if we actually give a crap about acting properly when the time comes, we need to have a much different understanding of what “loyalty” actually means.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        What are we loyal *TO*?

        Some vague abstract “first principle”?

        People from our tribe?

        (Hey, who do you think you can rely on when the crap hits the fan? Your beloved principles???)Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:


        you mistake my question. It is not a hypothetical, but a call for us to judge our fellows — the ones who currently have blood on their hands. Just like the guy who was blackmailing Michael Jackson. I take your point, that we should judge with a shred of humility.

        Personally, I see it as — the ones who care are alright — they may make decisions you wouldn’t yourself (could you order the mass slaughter of people in wartime? tanks against spears, commander?), but there’s a level of “can you live with yourself.”Report

  4. Avatar Geoff Arnold says:

    I’m puzzled by one thing. You say that Paterno is a “Great Man”. (Your caps.) Great men (and women) do great, significant things. Paterno was just a football coach. Anyone who thinks that coaching college sports qualifies as a “Great Thing” has seriously warped priorities.Report

    • Avatar Jonathan says:

      I don’t know that one must do great, significant things to be a great person, but if this is the case, it could still apply to Paterno. Paterno had a reputation for being more than just a coach. He was, reportedly, a mentor for the kids he coached, hoping to help them become good men, not just good football players. It’s my understanding that under his leadership, the team had a relatively high graduation rate. He was said to be everything that amateur athletics are supposed to be about.

      According to his legend, he has done great things for thousands of young men. Sadly, he gravely let down a number of boys. I won’t claim to know exactly how the two balance out, but certainly all of it is now part of the Paterno legacy.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        Well, none of that matters anymore. Paterno’s a scummy slimeball, and he always was, all along, and none of what he did anywhere ever can ever mean anything. Because someone told him that someone else raped a kid, and he didn’t immediately go to the police and demand that everyone get sent to prison forever. So that means that Paterno’s scum, a failed human being, and anyone who even says anything positive about him is either a moron, a dupe, or evil.Report

  5. Avatar Sam M says:

    To say that Paterno “coached football” misses the point entirely. His reputation was based on the fact that he was more than that. He created an ethos for an entire region of the country. Penn State’s vistory over Miami in the 1980s was not these 22 guys versus those 22 guys, it was good versus evilk, civil versus crass. Paterno was coaching football, yes, but he was (supposedly) doing so in a way that PROVED that you could combine excellence in academics and athletics. That those kids from the ghetto really could study hard and get a degree. That reserved sartorial choices could make a statement. (I am serious. At least half of PSU’s appeal was the fact that there were no names on the uniforms. Not because people care about names on shirts, but because they thought it was important for people to express allegiance, to subvert their own interest to a larger goal. Even if that goal was, rationally, silly.)

    In the end, PSU football achieved a kind of literary significance. To say that Paterno coached football is like saying Shakespeare wrote stories. It’s true, on its face. But hardly captures the whole truth. Which is why people care so much.Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

      “In the end, PSU football achieved a kind of literary significance.”

      What a gross exaggeration.Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

        You probably hated “Rudy”.Report

      • Avatar Sam M says:

        I disagree. What is it that literature does, in your mind?

        PSU football was not just a season, or a story. It was an overarching narrative that stood in for a lot of ideas about morality, about culture, about how to carry yourself.

        Sounds literary to me.


        • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

          You’re right Sam M, and I should have qualified.  I accept your account as description of the social pscyhe in this area, I just don’t endorse it.

          Surely, we are all affected emotionaly and otherwise by many things.  But just because we are affected in such and such a way doesn’t mean we have justification for acting on it.

          The literary significance of these games for their audience is probably real, but not necessarily a worthy one, or one that should be prioritized.Report

          • The literary significance of these games for their audience is probably real, but not necessarily a worthy one, or one that should be prioritized.

            With all due respect, who are you to say that the significance of sports to their fans is unworthy?


            • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

              Note: I critiqued “literary significance,” not significance more generally.

              But who am I to say?  It’s not as if me saying it makes it so.  I’m only saying it because it appears so to me.  If you think I’m making a subjective judgement, that’s one thing, but don’t think I have the audacity to think I’m making a subjective judgement and then still make it.

              To me it’s a more objective judgement.  That people are moved more by their sport’s team than by war, poverty, and the like is a problem to me.  It’s not a matter of one being unworthy, but of being less worthy than the other.Report

              • Avatar bluntobject says:

                That people are moved more by their sports team than by war, poverty, and the like is a problem to me.  It’s not a matter of one being unworthy, but of being less worthy than the other.

                I concur with this statement in isolation, but given that the (micro-)context here is whether Penn State’s football story counts as “literary” it looks like you’re claiming that the vicarious experience of cheering for a football team is less worthy than the vicarious experience of, say, reading Dostoevsky.  (Note: “looks like”.)Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

                The vicarious experience, certainly not.  But there’s definitely something to learn in the one, where as the other at least seems to be pure entertainment (as oppose to only including but not being entirely made up of entertainment.

                I think I was more trying to draw a connection to action though.  That it’s perfectly valid to have, enjoy, and go after the vicarious enjoyment of sports spectating, but when it comes to being moved to act, I’m less sure that it’s a good think people are more moved to act via their favorite sports team than something in their community. 

                I don’t have it all worked out, but the respect and enthusiasm commanded by sports (that people are watching, not playing) has always seemed find in moderation, but for some reason it’s never in moderation.Report

              • Avatar bluntobject says:

                The vicarious experience, certainly not.  But there’s definitely something to learn in the one, where as the other at least seems to be pure entertainment

                You’re right: as a numbers nerd, trying to make sense of football pushed me towards parts of statistics I hadn’t touched in ages, while Crime and Punishment was more or less just a good read.


                I’m less sure that it’s a good thing people are more moved to act via their favorite sports team than something in their community.


                [T]he respect and enthusiasm commanded by sports (that people are watching, not playing) has always seemed fine in moderation, but for some reason it’s never in moderation.

                There’s plenty of moderate sports fandom around — it’s just not as newsworthy as the extreme kind.Report

              • You will be hard-pressed to find a sports fan who objectively thinks that sports are more important than war, poverty, etc.  That doesn’t change the fact that sports take on a literary and emotional meaning to fans that political issues may not, nor that there is nothing inherently wrong with this.  Sports make life a little bit better for fans just by virtue of being fans.  Being equally passionate about war or poverty, etc. does not.

                You will as such find that quite often, the places where sports take on the most meaning to fans are the places that are most economically abandoned and distressed.  Sports mean something in Buffalo and Detroit that they do not mean in New York City.

                And, frankly, I don’t think you’d want to live in a world where people were more passionate about political causes than they were about sports.

                Sayre’s Law that Renee links above is probably a good thing.  A world where high stakes issues consistently drew strong passion is a world where instability, violence, and political oppression are going to be the rule.  You worry about cults of personality in sports?  What do you think happens to the passions that create those cults of personality if those emotions are transferred to politics?  I’d say that a cult of personality around a politician is infinitely more terrifying than a cult of personality around a football coach.


              • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

                You will be hard-pressed to find a sports fan who objectively thinks that sports are more important than war, poverty, etc.

                Actions speak louder than words.

                And, frankly, I don’t think you’d want to live in a world where people were more passionate about political causes than they were about sports.

                It’s not about being as passionate, it’s about being as interested/moved to action.  More people watch the super bowl than vote.  Sports at the end of the day are entertainment.  Movies can tell us moving stories as well, and give us the gift of heightened drama/emotion/transcendence, but at the end of the day they’re just recreation.

                And the amount of water that people put into a sports organization like PSU is bound to lead to similar symptoms of looking the other way.  These kinds of institutional problems are part and parcel to an unfounded/out-of-balance connection to something that isn’t real.  The conflict on the field is great to watch and a great way to demonstrate excellence, committment, and determination, and it’s great fun for the fans, but there are not stakes.  It’s just a game.  And one where 99% of those involved don’t participate, they spectate.

                They call it a past-time for a reason.  I like sports, I like going to games and getting lost in the moment.  But it should never become anything other than fun.Report

  6. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    “We should not feel like we know him any less than we did a week ago.  A week ago, this man’s remarkable loyalty to his institution was deemed one of his most admirable traits; today, that loyalty has quite rightly cost him his job and his legacy and, most importantly, has been shown to have had unthinkable consequences for innocent children.  That is precisely what should scare us the most if things like this are ever to become less frequent”

    To say that he did something mosterous because that’s what the people around him, his admirers as well as supporters required of him is one thing, but that doesn’t change the fact that we should view him differently.

    If I found out that my father, who works with children on a regular basis driving a school bus, had somehow looked the otherway, or failed to act in stopping something similar from happening, I damn well would look at him differently, despite having loved and admired him going on 24 years now.

    How can one remain great despite these lapses?  Unless barriers to greatness have been lowered just as much as Penn State’s acceptance standards.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

      List some great people who had no lapses of any sort.  Take your time coming up with a list, it might take you a while.

      Indeed, great people, typically, are regarded as great because they have a powerful capability to make things happen.  This comes with an associated exposure to a lot of situations where small decisions have great consequences.

      Some of those are going to be pretty bad.Report

      • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

        Enabling rape of children disqualifies, at least think I.

        But to your point, this is usually why I’m a “Working Class Hero” kind of guy.  Those people who are unglamoursly good, and great to those who know them. 

        In our society, if the “people” are talking about someone being “great,” the limelight they achieved to even warrant that conversation most likely required them doing things that by definition disqualifies them.Report

        • It is uniquely easy to fool yourself into denying what you should believe, especially when you’re hearing it second hand.  Especially when it means bringing shame on something you love.

          Additionally, “Great” does not mean “good.”  Some of the greatest men in history are also the greatest villains.Report

          • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

            And this get’s at the crucial issue here, which is many ways one of how we compare excellence and goodness.

            Are they uncomparable things?  Words that measure attributes with non-overlapping boundaries?

            Or does one take precedent over the other?  So that even if we say he is still “great,” what we mean to say is that he was great at coaching but not a good person. 

            That qualification is one that someone people might argue is implicity in “he’s still great,” but which I don’t think most people would acknowledge openly.

            But then Mark, noting how difficult it would be, as a human being, to do what someone like Paterno and others did not, isn’t that all the more reason to question his greatness?  For the very fact that he was no “greater” at overcoming these emotional pitfalls than the rest of us?Report

            • Good people can have horrible lapses of judgment with horrible consequences, regardless of greatness, and vice versa.  No great person has ever been without lapses.  Whether we should question Paterno’s greatness is also besides the point, which is simply to point out how easy it is for even the strongest leaders among us to become a mindless follower when it really matters.  If we’re using this as an opportunity to question Paterno’s greatness, then we’re doing little more than beefing up our own sense of self-superiority.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

                His percieved greatness has everything to do with it.  If people who falter in this way, who have lapses in this way, are still allowed that tile, we as a culture are implicitly condoning the status attribution that lead this man to risk, “not only children, but also his own interests, for what he perceived as the interests of his organization.”

                Whether or not he stays “great” in our minds has everything to do with whether someone makes the choices he made.

                The social pressure and values of the university and that sports culture that seemingly led to this institutional failure will only be perpetuated by trying to maintain the notion of his “greatness.”

                Seperating out the man and the legend, allowing the former to be decried while the latter lives on, well, doesn’t that send a mixed message?

                Why do people aspire to greatness, and at what lengths will they continue to go if we maintain that greatness and goodness are seperate and not to have anything to do with one another.Report

              • What you are in effect saying is that we should redefine greatness.  Ok, fine.  Let’s instead substitute “Remarkably Effective Leader” for “Great Man.” My point remains.  We can all become sheep.Report

      • Avatar Renee says:

        I am reminded of Popper’s line: ‘… if our civilization is to survive, we must break with the habit of deference to great men.’  (Yes I recognize the irony of quoting a well-known figure  to discount great men).  I just looked up the context (Preface to The Open Society and Its Enemies) and the next line is:  ‘Great men make great mistakes …’

        I really appreciate both Mark and Ryan’s points about loyalties to institutions, but we have as much loyalty towards ‘great men.’  Is this a vestigial reaction from the playground argument of my dad could beat up your dad?  I think this is as powerful (if not more so) than the loyalty to institution when looking at the history of religion.

        Paterno is a tragic character.  We should not discount either his amazing triumphs, nor his horrible failure.


        • I really appreciate both Mark and Ryan’s points about loyalties to institutions, but we have as much loyalty towards ‘great men.’  Is this a vestigial reaction from the playground argument of my dad could beat up your dad?  I think this is as powerful (if not more so) than the loyalty to institution when looking at the history of religion.

          I agree that we have as much loyalty towards “Great Men.”  There’s clearly a problem with cults of personality.  But I’d submit that blind loyalty to “Great Men” is inherent to having “Great Man (or Woman, for that matter).”  By that I mean that in order to be a “Great Man” one must inspire the loyalties and passions of large numbers of people – one must, in other words, be a great and effective leader, regardless of whether your leadership is ultimately for good or ill.

          That said, there’s a difference between loyalty and blind loyalty that is going to be the same in both cases of loyalty to institution and loyalty to a personality.  And the reexamination of that loyalty is no less valuable in the latter than in the former.Report

    • I’m not saying “don’t look at him differently.” I’m saying don’t pretend we know him any less – if anything, for better or worse, we know him a little more.  We just shouldn’t suddenly pretend that Paterno is someone who did far too little to stop child abuse, and nothing more – the other stuff is no less part of who he is than it ever was.  That is not an excuse for what he did – it’s a warning to us.Report

      • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

        “We just shouldn’t suddenly pretend that Paterno is someone who did far too little to stop child abuse, and nothing more

        But isn’t the point that the other “great” things he did become trivial in the face of these few things he did not do?Report

        • Not at all. That may or may not be the effect of this, and frankly I’m uninterested in whether it is.  My point is that if that’s what we’re concerned with, then we’re not really very concerned with the victims or with understanding why this happened, or with understanding how we can have fewer victims because of loyalty-inspired inaction in the future.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        Doesn’t matter. Child molestation. The end.

        I mean, this country is willing to raze daycare centers and excavate ten-foot-deep holes where they were because of accusations of child molestation. You think they care about the accomplishments of one old football coach?Report

  7. Avatar Steve S. says:

    I’m glad you said these things because some other blogs have become unreadable in recent days with their absolutely preposterous levels of moral grandstanding and monomaniacal focus on individual personalities.  As for what the “answer” is, I will first note that it’s to be entirely expected that people in large, inert, hierarchical organizations will behave this way, so focusing on individual personalities won’t bring that “answer” any closer.  We either have to abolish these organizations (unlikely, of course) or establish a very clear set of procedures for people to follow.  In hindsight, the procedure in place in the state of Pennsylvania appears inadequate, so improve it.  You’re never going to staff large, inert, hierarchical organizations with moral supermen and you’re foolish if you think you can.

    On an ancillary note, I posed the following on another blog and got nothing but stupid, trivial responses, so I’ll run it by this group.  The mucky-mucks at Penn State got in trouble for not reporting an alleged crime to the proper authorities.  Now, the proper authorities did finally start learning of these allegations, according to the timelines I’ve seen, in 2008.  Investigations got rolling, a grand jury apparently started it’s work in 2009, and so on.  Sandusky was finally arrested a few days ago.  We’ve all been focusing on what Paterno and others at Penn State did, but I was wondering if it strikes anybody else as odd that, with the seemingly exigent circumstance of a predator on the loose, the proper authorities took the languid course of convening a grand jury and spending years investigating events not directly related to the sex crimes before finally arresting the suspect.Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

      Don’t worry Steve, there’s plenty of “moral grandstanding” to go around.  I’m sure we can muster enough up for the incompetance on the part of investigators in this issue, as well as those still left on the field, like the grad assist, who first witnessed the crime, and did the least possible.

      I heartily agree that this shouldn’t be about one man, that this is a problem of insitutions and complex relationships between many different people.  I think though, that the moral condemnation of Paterno is in large part reactionary, and a response to those who would still hold him up, rather one’s first response to the situation, which is that it’s tragic, and results from a failure not isolated to any one person.Report

      • Avatar Steve S. says:

        I take Mark’s point above to be that we can simultaneously condemn Paterno’s moral failing in this matter while at the same time recognizing that he’s just a human being acting as human beings almost inevitably do.  When I read rants that Paterno is some sort of unique monster it makes me want to bang my head against the wall.Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

            Aye, SteveS, how many of us can be sure we wouldn’t have such feet of clay ourselves?Report

            • Avatar bluntobject says:

              Most of us, having studied the literature (or perhaps picked up a history book), can be pretty sure we would have such feet of clay, or worse.  That doesn’t excuse us, by the way.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

                A valid point. 

                Just for the record, my own condemnation of the man stem’s less from some peculiar interest in his own mistake, then with urging that his celebrity not lead to other’s downplaying it.

                He’s old and maybe not 99 out of 100 would have done differently than he.  What I’m reacting to is the idea that he, if allowed, would have kept coachingm till this year’s end, and that a surprisingly vocal group of supporters feel the need to qualify his role as a moral agent in all this.Report

        • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

          And I agree, which is why I haven’t maintained that Paterno is uniquely a monster, but think that part of “why this happens” is precisely because of the idea that someone in Paterno’s shoes remains great even after this.


          • I think it’s safe to say that his legacy and reputation are deeply undermined here, that outside of his most cultish fans, everyone at least thinks a little less of him.  I think it’s also safe to say that if in 2002 or earlier he had gone to the cops and tried to have Sandusky prosecuted, his reputation as a great man and great leader would have been enhanced even more.

            This type of shit happens all the time.  What makes this case rare is that someone famous was caught up in it.

            If concern for his own reputation for “greatness” was a factor here at all, it was a factor providing an incentive in the other direction.Report

            • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

              “Yet, when he had to choose between protecting his organization’s reputation and protecting children, even he failed, risking his own well-earned legacy in the process.”

              I read that as you linking his actions to some status-based incentive provided by the sports culture he was a part of.


              • No – that is me saying that his actions directly contradicted any status-based incentive.  I was driving home just how powerful this institutional loyalty thing is.  I don’t see how you can read that sentence as saying anything else.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

                Institutional loyalty becomes something quite different when you are the face of that institution.

                Protecting the reputation of an organization you are the face of is very different from being just another one of the members.

                It seems like a consequence of what your saying, whether you mean it to be or not.Report

              • I can buy that institutional loyalty is exacerbated by being the face of that institution, and that being the face of the institution at least mitigates the personal incentives.  But I can’t buy that it eliminates or reverses those personal incentives.

                If, in 2002 or earlier, Paterno had gone to the police, he’s a hero, right?  And not only is he a hero, but because he’s both the face of PSU and the hero, the damage to the university is largely mitigated.  Instead of talking about how PSU let this go on for years, we’re talking about how PSU responded quickly and appropriately to stop a rogue employee.

                I know that you want to talk about whether he should have been the face of the university.  Well, he largely built that university.

                What if, instead of Paterno at Penn State, we were talking about Urban Meyer at Florida in his first year there.  Meyer, despite being the new HC, is, like Paterno, a high profile coach with a sparkling reputation and is instantly the face of the university.  But, as new HC, he’s got a lot less loyalty to the university.  I think it’s safe to say that it’s drastically more likely that Meyer does the right thing in that situation.  I’m a lot less certain that things get reported properly if we make the opposite change, replacing Paterno with a longtime HC who is not the face of the university.

                As I said, this shit happens all the time.  That’s the greater tragedy.  How often do family members fail to report abuse of a child due to a desire to protect the family, or an unwillingness to admit to themselves that someone in their family could do this?  Who was the face of the Boy Scouts that failed to report? How many stories have we heard over the years about abuse at schools, covered up or ignored by administrators?

                On that last point, there’s a law here that PSU failed to follow regarding reporting, a law that AFAIK applies specifically to all educational institutions.   That law didn’t come into existence because schools were doing a good job of reporting abuse.

                And that just pertains to cover ups of child abuse.  How much other serious shit is there that gets covered up on an everyday basis at all levels of society?

                If the primary focus here is on whether cults of personality incentivize the cult object to cover up the crimes of others, then we are ignoring all of that other shit.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      The entire time line is fishy and smells of either a cover up or slow walk. It is completely within the schools power to keep a guy under allegations of sex abuse off campus but he was allowed to work there. The allegations were from many years before so  the break between when people first saw something and the cops getting involved is a giant moral and likely legal  lapse. This also seems a very slow moving grand jury. At least some of the people who were aware of this were mandatory reporters so they had a legal responsibility to report to the cops and child protective services. Apparently the Uni pres was a family therapist so he well knows he was supposed to report all this.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        It’s obvious that there was slow-walking happening. The question is what exactly Paterno’s responsibility was in all this, and why he’s being fired over it.

        I’m pretty sure that if this were some jobber coach at East Butthole State University then he’d still have his job. (On the other hand, EBSU would have booted the assistant coach right away instead of trying to quietly transition him out of the program.)Report

        • Avatar Michael Cain says:

          On a different hand, if it were a jobber coach, who was not the face for a legendary program, who had not been working with the alleged assailant in some capacity for 30+ years, it might have been a lot easier to do the right thing at the times when it should have been done.Report

      • Avatar Steve S. says:

        I’m not going to comment on whether there was a deliberate slow-walk, but I would like to see someone get past the Paterno obsession for a minute and ask the proper authorities why it took three and a half years for them to do their work.Report

        • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

          The “Paterno obsession” remains important, because in keeping with Mark’s post, it is crucial to understanding the institutional failure in this case.

          But to your point, I agree, and think there are other lapses in judgement here, beyond the immediate staff’s.  Am I correct in saying that the police charged with investigating were the campus police?  Or do the campus police overlapp with another police department’s giving the latter responsibilty for following this through?

          In either case, I’m wouldn’t be surpruised if the institutional bias at play for the school’s staff was also at play in the mentality of those investigating.Report

          • Avatar Steve S. says:

            I can’t comment on things I don’t know about, but the timeline of events I’m familiar with went something like this:  there was an incident with Sandusky in 1998 which was somewhat ambiguous, the campus police investigated and dismissed it.  In 2002 a witness saw Sandusky doing a specific sex act with a boy in the shower room and subsequently reported it to Paterno, who reported it up the ladder.  The disappointment in Paterno stems from his being powerful and important in the institution yet seemingly never following up on a very troubling allegation.  Curley and Schultz were the higher-ups who are alleged to have not reported this to proper authorities.Report

            • Avatar greginak says:

              The police should have been involved in 2002. That was when the crucial failure started and continued until the cops started their slow as molasses investigation  or 3 years ago.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      But Steve this is child molestation we’re talking about. According to popular opinion no circumvention of due process, no denial of civil liberties, no total ignorance of Constitutional rights is beyond the pale when you’re talking about child molestation.

      The issue being, of course, that modern America has so repressed our pent-up Puritan heritage that it comes out in some oddly extreme ways. We’re so desperate to have public ways to display our fundamental goodness and moral superiority that we really go to town on the few social taboos we have left.Report

    • We’ve all been focusing on what Paterno and others at Penn State did, but I was wondering if it strikes anybody else as odd that, with the seemingly exigent circumstance of a predator on the loose, the proper authorities took the languid course of convening a grand jury and spending years investigating events not directly related to the sex crimes before finally arresting the suspect.

      Strangely enough, the wife and I were discussing exactly this question at length last night.  That this all came down just days after Paterno got his record makes it even more odd.  I have my suspicions as to why, but nothing with enough evidence to rise above completely unwarranted speculation.Report

      • Avatar PennStateAlum says:

        Oh for heaven’s sake, you think the evil DA is just trying to tarnish “Great Man” JoePa’s record? Wow, this is almost as disgusting as the stuff Bob Cheeks writes.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew says:

          This is unwarranted: Mark did not say this.  On the other hand, he did leave us to wonder what he might say if he said what he is thinking.  But he didn’t say.  So the most we ought to do is just wonder.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          I actually took it the other way: The DA’s office waited until he got the record before filing. I doubt they would have waited years and years for that to happen. But they might have done it when they did instead of a couple months earlier because they figured the fallout might be Paterno’s job. That doesn’t explain why it didn’t happen years ago.Report

          • Your guess as to my speculation is infinitely closer than the other.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew says:

            Waited for him to get the record for what reason?  Just so that he could have it?Report

            • As I said, just speculation. There’s also a lot of other stuff that’s swirling around right now that may or may not come together. My sense is that we have only seen the tip of the iceberg with this story, and that it could get a lot worse, as bad as it already is.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                Oh yeah. I’ve heard some pretty messed up things beyond what’s on the record now.

                The timing wrt to the record is odd, but not outside the realm of plausible coincidence.  i just have a hard imagining or seeing what reason there’d be for the grand jury to time the release of its report around it.  (I’m not actually clear what official or body was in charge of the release or it’s timing.)

                As to the years-long process, that seems both plausible and curious at the same time to me.  Wikipedia mentions a three-year long investigation; I can’t seem to find a report of the date the grand jury was empaneled. But it’s doesn’t appear the investigation has been ongoing since the 2002 timeframe.  The issue is why an official investigation was delayed. Three years seems long, but not excessive to me.  I certainly can’t question it based on anything but uninformed speculation.  It seems not implausible that a full investigation of something this extensive in time, this deeply implicating institutions and public figures as esteemed as these, and with so many victims could simply take that long.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Corbett wanted to get elected, maybe?Report

              • Avatar Steve S. says:

                “As to the years-long process, that seems both plausible and curious at the same time to me.”

                I’m not endorsing any particular “theory” of why the investigation took so long, but I am trying to make this point:  we’re seeing all sorts of outrage, including from the proper authorities, over Paterno et al not acting in appropriate ways given the information they had.  Folks are outraged that they didn’t do everything they could to take an alleged child predator off the street.  But the proper authorities took three and a half years to do so.  Think about the outrage directed at then graduate assistant McQueary; “why, if I’d discovered Sandusky in the shower with that boy I’d have strangled him with my bare hands!”  (Such statements are clownish, by the way, but that’s an aside)  If proper authorities have an alleged child predator on the loose who as far as they know is doing his deeds at that very moment why are they spending months or years developing the broader conspiracy/coverup case?

                You’re right that it’s normal for grand jury proceedings to take a long time, but this is a case where proper authorities have multiple credible witnesses, both child and adult, for crimes that get the general public riled up like none other, and it still takes years to arrest a suspect who is a supposed imminent threat.  When we think of grand juries we think of frauds, conspiracies, coverups, not serial rape.  I’m not hearing a breath of questioning the authorities about this in media accounts.

                I don’t live in Pennsylvania; is it common to convene a grand jury to develop evidence in a rape case?  Seems odd to me.  If you read through the grand jury report in the Sandusky case it’s apparent that some portion of their time was spent not on Sandusky’s activities but on “what did Paterno et al know and when did they know it.”Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        Corbett was runnign this case. Wonder if our governor expects another term?Report

  8. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    I’m still a bit unclear on what exactly it was that Paterno didn’t do. I guess he…didn’t scream from the rooftops that he heard someone say that someone saw someone doing something bad?Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

      *when someone told him they say a boy being assaulted in the showers.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      DensityDuck – Paterno didn’t inform police or make sure that if the allegations were true, that Sandusky was stopped. This was clearly what Paterno should have done, but he chose not to for whatever reason. This was a failure of judgment and a failure of leadership. It brokers no excuses.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        So Paterno’s crime was that he was insufficiently zealous in his pursuit of a suspected Communist–er, I mean, child molester.Report

  9. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    Screw due process, this is child molestation we’re talking about here!Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      What are you talking about? The failure of due process is on the part of Paterno and other school officials who did nothing to stop the abuse after allegations surfaced. Please do your research before making a fool out of yourself.Report

  10. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    This is excellent, Mark. Between you and Ryan and Tod we have quite an evolution of ideas here.Report

  11. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    I agree, he can have done good things, and this failing doesn’t change that.  He did do good things. And I even think the length of his service and number of good things he did goes a long way toward creating some sympathy for last night’s unfortunate outpouring.  They were mourning for a beloved fallen leader. But this doesn’t make him a Great Man.  He was not a Great Man.  He was a football coach who hung around a long time, and achieved what we expect of scholastic football coaches: guiding young men to better lives and life choices, supporting them academically, and winning football games.  Good stuff.  But he’s not a Great Man.  That Steve above makes the case for greatness based on entirely parochial mythos relating to this or that game that became legendary in the program, as if every football program with any tradition in the country doesn’t have such internal mythos, or based on the absence of names on jerseys – something commonplace merely two decades ago, and hardly unique even today – shows the imaginary, self-constructed nature of this supposed greatness.

    If we want the term “Great Man” to have any weight at all, we can’t apply it here. Joe Paterno was a great football coach, but at the same time, since 2002 (or at least a time thereafter at which it is reasonable to have expected the university to launch a serious investigation), he’s essentially been sitting on allegations of sexual abuse of children by one of his closest friends and program coaches, allowing the PSU administration (over whom he towered in moral authority on that campus) to slow-walk, or perhaps simply forestall, any investigation into the matter.  This was not one isolated failure nine years ago.  Even assuming Paterno didn’t influence the administration against doing a more aggressive investigation of his friend, there exists a moment in, say 2004, 2005, at which he essentially began making a decision every single day that he would  continue to let this matter stay hushed up for another day… and those days stretched out for six or more years. Whatever greatness Joe Paterno exhibited in his life certainly must be detracted from by this last period when a full accounting is done.  It is trivial to say that this doesn’t make the great or good things he did less great or good.  Such is the case with everyone’s deeds – those of true Great Men, and of those who live and die in obscurity – the good ones will always be good, the wicked wicked.  But these failings do affect the sum total of what his life has amounted to.  He was not a Great Man before we knew about this; but this certainly could have caused him to lose Great Man status had he achieved it.  Yes, Great Men can do have Great Lapses, and Very Great Men can remain Great even through their Lapse. But a Great Lapse can cause a “merely” Great Man to fall from greatness. But that is all above Joe Paterno’s station.

    Joe Paterno was a man who did many good things, who also had many flaws (like every one of us).  He was also very vain, cultivating a cult of personality that ended up swallowing up an entire athletic department, and arguably a university administration, whole. He greatly enjoyed this power and its prestige, and above all he was a survivor who wanted to retain these things until the time of his choosing.  This is clear to anyone who cares to look.  Even those in the sports-media world who respect and honor his legacy understand and describe the situation in State College this way.  It’s the honest truth.  And when it came time to decide how to deal with a situation that was bigger than football, and bigger than Joe Paterno’s basis of power, a situation based at the very center of his universe, Joe Paterno acted in such a way as to be able to maintain his grip on the power he wanted to hold until he chose to relinquish it on his terms.  I’m not calling him a unique moral monster, but that is just simply what he did.  No, his legacy would not have been enhanced; he wouldn’t have been a hero, had he come forward in 2002.  He would have been tarnished and destroyed just as he is being now.  And he knew that, and that is why he didn’t come forward.  And in any case, he didn’t, and that is what matters.

    No, it doesn’t matter such that it changes the fact that he did good things, and displayed loyalty to his institution, for nearly half a century.  But it doesn’t have to change any of that — we don’t have to pretend we know him less now than we did last year — in order to become a defining part of who he really is in our eyes.  Because it’s not that we know him less now, that we start to deny now what we had known before.  It’s that now we know him more fully.Report