Every single internet writer has done some sort of thoughtful retrospective on Penn State, Big Ten football, the cost of cover-ups, and the sad, painful, problematic legacy of Joe Paterno. Some of the pieces have been good, some have been great, some have been piss-poor odes to football culture. These are my two favorites:
Megan Greenwell at GOOD: Penn State and the Danger of Sports Induced Myopia: By pairing Penn State with the Catholic Church, Greenwell examines the relationship between devotional fervor–the kind induced by 110,000 seat stadiums and the kind induced by wafers and wine–and a culture of secrecy. The notion of “keeping it in the family” applies in both cases.
“Anybody who has ever cared about something to the point of obsession can see how Paterno justified not reporting Sandusky to the police: It would hurt his players, his staff, his reputation, his town. Maintaining critical distance from the sports team that has become your religion—much less one you’ve coached for nearly five decades—is nearly as difficult as questioning your faith in God.”
Having never been the devotional sort, I’m hard pressed to find an entity to which I’d be willing to commit myself as unabashedly as people do to both their alma maters and their religious organizations. Is there an institution that I feel so strongly about that its preservation would justify the ignoring of unambiguous immorality? I can’t think of one, which is either a failure of my imagination, or an overstating of my commitment to justice and all things good. Probably both, which brings me to….
David Brooks at the New York Times: Let’s All Feel Superior: Citing psych studies, David Brooks explained some of the cultural, psychological and sociological phenomena that prevent people from speaking up after witnessing heinous crimes. The basic premise is that asking the question “How could they have let this happen?” is a tactic of self-deception. It’s the underlying, and almost always false, belief that we would do something differently. We like to think the best of ourselves, and we constantly predict that we will behave in more moral, ethical, responsible, generous ways than we do.
“In centuries past, people built moral systems that acknowledged this weakness. These systems emphasized our sinfulness. They reminded people of the evil within themselves… These systems gave people categories with which to process savagery and scripts to follow when they confronted it…But we’re not Puritans anymore. We live in a society oriented around our inner wonderfulness. So when something atrocious happens, people look for some artificial, outside force that must have caused it — like the culture of college football, or some other favorite bogey.”
Earlier this week, I wrote a piece about sexual harassment in which I shared a time when, as a teenager, I declined to call the sexual harassment hot line to report a supervisor. There are a dozen external reasons why I didn’t make the call, most of which are unimportant. What’s interesting, however, is that had you surveyed me a week before the incident and asked me how I would have reacted to a sexist comment like the one that was made, I would have assured you with absolute certainty that I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up the phone and file a report. A blowjob joke is not on par with the sexual assault of the child, of course, but the fact remains that we are collectively terrible at predicting our own behavior in challenging moral situations. Understanding that truth about ourselves makes all the finger pointing ring just a little naive.
Although I still think the protesting Penn State kids are acting like assholes.
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