Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Mincing words

Let's not mince words.  The horror that started the blood-letting at Penn State University is what happened when a football coach, a defensive coordinator at one of America's leading universities, some criminal named Sandusky, couldn't somehow contain his heinous passion for little boys, little underprivileged boys.  If the grand jury reports are true, that man ought to become a soprano ASAP. 

Let's not mince words, but after that horrifying act (or series of acts) this story is, in a way, about words--our inability to use them in a fashion that conveys the overwhelming horror at the heart of all of this.  The only possible way to convey that bestial reality are words drawn from the world of porn, vile words.

So this graduate assistant coach named McQueary actually sees what's happening in a Penn State locker room shower--this old pervert hammering a boy.  A BOY.  He sees them, stark naked.  He hears it happening, for pity sake.

But he doesn't act, doesn't stop it.  Instead, he goes home to his dad.

And the next day--the next day!--he tells Paterno, the coach, the fabled coach.  Paterno explains the grand jury a couple years later that the language this graduate assistant used was "molested."  That's all, just that Sandusky was molesting a boy.  

Molestation, I suppose, could be nothing more than poking a finger at some kid's weenie--or visa versa, right?  No really huge deal, I guess.  We all got to get our jollies somehow, right? So Paterno carries the news up the firing line to his boss and tells him some sort of sexual tomfoolery was going on in the locker room and it was Sandusky, his old friend, who was doing it.  

And so four or five university officials, one after another, determined to shush the whole sorry mess, hoping this dirty-water would just slosh away into the drains of Penn State football team's showers, I guess.  

There's no end to the horror here--did the legendary Paterno simply assume that what was going on was little more than some horny old guy messing around?  How about this--if the graduate assistant had told Paterno EXACTLY what he saw with his own eyes going on in that shower room--using the awful words, the only words we have to define what he saw and heard--would Paterno have gone to the police?  If Paterno is right, why didn't McQueary tell him, in detail, what he saw and heard?  Molestation is mincing words.

What Sandusky did had nothing to do with language.  But what happened after that is a kind of language problem.  What really happened doesn't so much go beyond words because we have them; we just can't use them politely.  What happened is that evil, that perverse, that wretched.  But, honestly, none of those words I just used really get there.

The problem at Penn State is that the enterprise of football--of big-time collegiate athletics in this country--is too d___ big to fail.  But right there in Happy Valley, it did.  Big time.  Face the facts:  nothing--not a d___ thing--in those coaching and administrative offices was more important than the god of football.  Certainly not a little naked boy getting hammered by a four-star general.  

People question the relationship between sports and higher education all the time.  A recent Atlantic ran a story to that effect as the cover article.  Big deal.  What just happened--and what will continue to emerge--at Penn State will do much more to cripple the empire.  It's just that collegiate athletics are, really, too big to fail.

Yesterday, I ran off to school early in order to give a test to a basketball player who was going to miss class for road trip.  I like the kid.  I played college bb myself long ago.  I too missed class.  I didn't complain.

But it happens more and more these days because the institution where I've taught for all these years really couldn't stay afloat without intercollegiate sports.  After all, who'd come?  Somewhere close to a third of our students are scholarshipped athletes.  My crystal ball isn't perfect, but I'd guess there'll be more in the future.  Athletics are simply too big to fail.

It's not hard to see Paterno as a tragic hero, a storied coach and much beloved man brought down by his own hand, his own tragic flaw.  That fall, classically, cathartically, prompts from me, from all of us, no end of pity and fear.  

Evil happened in Happy Valley, more than once, and it was tolerated.  Important people minced words, and little boys suffered horribly.

At the Daily Beast, Buzz Bissinger, who wrote Friday Night Lights, describes graphically what really happened.  What he says is not for the faint of heart.  But then neither is what happened.  Bissinger doesn't mince words.  

Thank goodness.  In this vile story, someone had to stop mincing words.
You can read Bissinger's words here.


CR said...

I read the link. The story is appalling and despicable and, sadly, all too human. The story tells me to look at my own life, at the times I have 'passed by on the other side,' to use Jesus' words. The story also reminds me of Flannery O'Connor's The Displaced Person, in which a vulnerable refugee dies and many are complicit in the death.

Anonymous said...

A slightly more nuanced take than Buzz....

I agree that this is a horrible situation for all involved, but do we not remember the Duke lacrosse case? A coach fired, a season cancelled, the reputation of an entire university sullied on charges that turned out to be false.

I have no reason to think these charges are not true, and I wouldn't argue that Paterno or anyone else was justified in what they did (or did not) do here, but can we at least wait a week and get a few more facts?

Anonymous said...

It is my undrestanding that McQueary did tell JoPa and JP passed the buck.. what I don't understand in my mind is how this man is now recieving death threats as a result of reporting the incident in the 1st place. It's beyond me in my intellect to understand the rational thinking of today's 'modern' society. Whatever happened to telling the truth. However sordid it may be.

Anonymous said...

So what's new? The powerful people are using others for their pleasure, material gain and glory. Unspoken sexual perversion makes it special? We promote and endure these conditions every day. Jesus said------.

J. C. Schaap said...

Anonymous I--you're right. It's a very good article. Thanks! jcs

Kennewick Man said...

One might say, "How the mighty have fallen." But, they weren't really mighty or they were mighty and shouldn't have been. Until we stop making people mighty we will continue to have these problems. Are they word problems or social problems? Words were minced but people were also elevated to a level that they don't deserve.

Anonymous said...

So go back to the garden of Eden where it all started. I know better than "God". We know that we are all gifted that way.