This Again

By Ramzy Nasrallah on May 18, 2016 at 1:15 pm
joe paterno statue

This again?

It's the prevailing reception to any new Jerry Sandusky/Penn State revelations dated after 2012 when the scandal ended, as was the case recently when court documents revealed Joe Paterno might have known his then-position coach was molesting young boys as early as 1976. 

If you would like to see how predictably the human condition for losing the plot plays out in real time, watch what happens whenever the next sad update to this tragedy finds itself splashed across a chyron or breaking news alert. It will unfold like this:

1. Story breaks

2. Penn State is vehemently attacked

3. Veracity of the report is vehemently counter-attacked

4. This Again?

It will then quietly fade away into the noise of daily life only to return later like resistant bacteria, when two sides will again be hellbent on winning an unwinnable debate - and making it all about Penn State, Paterno and football.

There are no heroes in this recurring cycle. Rebuking the university's systemic failures that enabled Sandusky to operate the way he did won't unrape any of his victims. Curators of tasteless shower jokes and clever Ped State comments aren't winning anything outside of their own imaginations either. 

Opposing the angry mob is the loyal resistance, a loud subset of Nittany Lion fatalists who categorically refuse to believe Paterno and/or Penn State even had a culture of silence - and they would run away with national championship in Mental Gymnastics if the NCAA sanctioned it as a sport:

"He (former WR coach and recruiting coordinator Mike McQueary) had seen a person, an older person, fondling a young boy," Paterno testified. "I don't know what you would call it, but it was of a sexual nature."

"I didn't want to interfere with their weekends, (so) either Saturday or Monday, I talked to my boss, Tim Curley, by phone, saying, 'Hey we got a problem' and I explained the problem to him," Paterno said.

Curley, in his deposition, said he did not think the incident constituted a crime worthy of calling the police, despite admitting to the grand jury that he knew Sandusky had been seen showering naked with a boy and inappropriately horsing around and wrestling with him.

Ten short years later Sandusky was arrested. There's no sane reason to continue debating what happened or who didn't know. There's only insanity, which happens every time humans keep doing the same futile thing. This Again.

childrens defense fund
Learn more: The Children's Defense Fund (also in Ohio)

Since the loyal resistance refuses to take the L here this debate to nowhere continues as its opposition will always take the bait - and a deceased football coach and his former bosses' culpability will continue to dominate a conversation that has no chance of ever influencing or changing anyone's opinion around what happened in State College for all of those years. All of the evidence is still hotly debated.

There was the secretary to a Penn State vice president who quietly removed the confidential Sandusky file containing his personal, handwritten notes and printed emails about his interactions with children because "she wanted to be helpful." The news that broke earlier this month was about an incident reportedly told to Paterno 40 years ago, reinforcing the position that nobody should have been surprised in 2011.

Depending on the side you choose, that can all be seen as damning or opportunistic; a smoking gun or incomplete evidence lacking context and credibility. Arguing over any aspect of it is fruitless when everyone is entrenched in their own sets of facts. The angry mob also refuses to take the L this debate. They're all stuck, viciously competing for the same imaginary trophy.

But wait, it gets even more idiosyncratic! You've probably been told Paterno's generation didn't really know about or discuss that stuff. Besides, Joe heroically ran what he was told about Sandusky up the chain of command, which should have been enough. The click-hungry media figured out that Paterno gets more views than Curley or Spanier does so guess who dominates the headlines and blame. Sandusky retired abruptly at 55 but never left the locker room. The Freeh Report had glaring holes in its findings. The Paterno Report was supported by guess who.

This Again. It's exhausting. This much energy should be directed toward producing something of value.

Ironically the This Again double entendre represents others that litter the Sandusky story and its aftermath, like how Penn State was forced to pay for silence and then went out and literally paid for more of it. By the time that 2001 rape Paterno testified about was reported to him, the urgency to address Sandusky's taste for underprivileged boys and years of the whispers about it had been downgraded from disturbing, hushed-tone horror shows documented by hand-written notes in confidential files to recurring annoyances that always found a way of quietly fading into the daily noise of life, aided by inaction.

We cannot afford to grow tired of hearing about THIS. Child abuse is not JUST yesterday's news. It is tomorrow's.

Serial child rape itself became This Again. Now the recurring media stories about it have achieved the same status.

Paterno's mediocre kin and the useful goons who have made his legacy their raison d'etre will continue to fight their battle indiscriminately until they they're reunited with their patriarch. Everyone else has scandal fatigue, and that's very bad for America. We have one of the worst records among industrialized nations on child abuse and neglect, losing on average between four and seven children every day, right now, while Sandusky is rotting in jail no longer adding to that statistic.

But we would rather debate what a dead football coach knew in the 1970s, and how his program should be punished, or what should be the fate of a goddamn statue. We're still stuck looking backwards. We haven't learned a thing.

What happened at Penn State probably had nothing to do with winning. The football program's empty piety about doing things the right way while children were being raped in its facilities is red meat for an angry mob that wants to make this about the elevated value of football games. It's as distracting as the NCAA was in inserting itself into a criminal case and forcing a football program to spend more time in figurative jail than any of Sandusky's enablers did in a literal one.

This is a story that still has no heroes. Yes, Sara Ganim did terrific work in helping bring it all to light - but that's what a nosy, competent investigative journalist is supposed to do. Why hasn't this tragedy produced a sea change for reducing child abuse in America? This isn't Sandy Hook, which failed to create any meaningful decrease in gun violence or mass shootings. There's no pro-child abuse lobby or organized vested factions in the way here.

There's just us, consistently making a sentinel event about football. We would rather demonize or defend a college football program than make meaningful advances to address the real scandal.

And then getting fatigued by this debate to nowhere, when we could instead be using Penn State and Jerry Sandusky as a catalyst to attack the ugliest, most unsavory parts of our society that produce over 6 million abused children annually. Unfortunately we don't particularly enjoy hearing about them. It's uncomfortable. Besides, they're largely invisible and tend to fade away into the noise of daily life. This Again.

If you insist on making this about Penn State, perhaps you should talk about how no other university does more for children's causes than it does, and leave football and the unfortunate past out of it. PSU has a significant lead on just about everybody else in this space. If you're a Paterno heavily invested in your family name equity or  one of those useful goons, then do whatever. You've made your priorities clear.

prevent child abuse
How to get involved with Prevent Child Abuse America

But if you believe that sports - big, dumb, utterly meaningless, wonderful sports - can be a vehicle for a greater purpose than bragging rights and empty pride then consider becoming an ambassador for eradicating This Again from the list of things we cannot afford to become tired of hearing. Child abuse is not just yesterday's news. It is tomorrow's.

So the next time a new revelation, discovery or otherwise meaningless clickbait content is released where This Again will appear shortly thereafter, try not to fall for it. Let it be a reminder that your relatively comfortable world is quite fortunate, and not only can't some arguments be won, even engaging in them isn't worth your valuable energy. Other, far more valuable things could benefit from it instead. Be better than that debate.

We lost the plot while it was going on, but maybe it's not too late to learn from what's happened with the Penn State child abuse scandal since it ended in 2012.  It's better to be righteous than right. If more people can be disciplined enough to do that, fewer of us will be wrong.

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