The Triumph of Evil

Carla Axtman

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing" (attributed to Edmund Burke, who didn't actually say it. But for the purposes of this post, here it is.)

Unless you've been living in an essential news blackout, you've seen the stories outlining the evil and horrific child sex abuse scandal at Penn State University. For the last few days as this tale has unfolded, its taken one ugly turn after another.

I don't follow big time college football so I can't relate to the concept that a college football coach is considered congruent to a deity. Its inexplicable to me that a guy who coaches other guys to carry a ball down a field while they beat each other half senseless inside a bunch of chalk lines in front of a stadium of cheering people is endowed with a god status. But there you have it. Even after its revealed that god just wasn't quite up to calling the police to keep a pedophile sexual predator in his employ from raping young boys, his subjects still rioted to his defense.

This week we witnessed how the speeding freight train that is all that comes with big time college sports, literally shattered the lives of eight children and those that love them. This train, loaded with prestige and tradition and crap tons of cash was allowed to run roughshod over innocents.

There's plenty of cowardice to go around in this saga. To be fair, anyone who chooses to step in front of a speeding freight train to save the lives of innocents might be doing more than just sloughing off moral cowardice. But it doesn't really take a Superman to know the difference between right and wrong here. A man in authority was raping children. A bunch of people in the system knew about it. None of them reported it to the police. None of them did anything to try and rescue those children.

I've never been much for hero worship or dalliances with cults of personality. Its likely I'm too self-involved to give away that much of myself to the care and feeding of another person's ego. Such cults and worship also allow for the creeping dismissal of bad behavior to the point where it can pass over the threshold of evil. Whether it be an individual personality or a group that is shoved up the mountain of hero status, our culture is eager to look outward for something to make bigger than themselves, warts and all.

Obviously this doesn't just extend merely to sports, but also to politics. In our zeal to march behind a leader, we'll sometimes turn a blind eye to the piling up of bad (and evil) acts in order to keep the faith. It can be something relatively insignificant (like Newt Gingrich's mass faking of Twitter followers, which also has the happy coincidence of being incredibly pathetic) to the mass murder of millions. We humans easily go adrift for a strong leader, no matter where he/she leads.

Yet even with our current national navel gazing, I suspect that other freight train sports programs will continue to run unabated. After all, things are still humming along for the Baylor men's basketball program. They're ranked 12th for the 2012 preseason. Major League Baseball enjoyed excellent television ratings, despite the ghosts of steroid use cheating sitting in the dugout.

And let us not forget the Oregon Ducks, who've barely skipped a beat.

And before you tell me that payola and steroids don't hold a candle to murder (Baylor) and child rape (Penn State), exactly what is the threshold of bad behavior that should end the worship of a sports program? Should we not be drawing that line well before someone's life is shattered...or snuffed out?

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      Kari, for 44 years parents entrusted their children to Coach Paterno and for just as long he helped transform them into high quality citizen athletes. He didn't molest any children and he didn't have personal knowledge of anyone molesting any children ...what he had was whatever he was told by a graduate asst and he reported this rumor to not one but two of his superiors. Dragging his good name through the pig pen with child rapists and implying that he was somehow responsible for any of it is crap. The man who did it is scum... Joe Paterno is not and I prefer to look at everything the man stood for all of those years, and the positive influence he had on 1,000's of players, than allow the evil actions of one of his asst's sully and besmirch his otherwise sterling reputation, and you should too.

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    Carla, The hyping up of sex and violence on TV, in the movies, and I'm told especially in video games, the hyped-up fervor of sports "fans" and the like all serve to keep the 99% distracted from our new social reality of vast income differentials, spreading impoverishment, and defunded social services--as so vividly demonstrated by the (re)emergence of the vast numbers of homeless and abandoned and yes, dangerous people who come out of the shadows for public scrutiny at OWS camps around the country. Again, whose interests are being served by this obsessive fandom?

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    It's really simple: In western culture, being a he-man jock type is a free pass. If Joe Pedoterno were found looking at some pictures on the office computer where he worked at a phone bank, you know he'd be immediately thrown into maximum security. But because he's a coach (a successful coach)? Well, heck. Let's go and drive him up a schoolbus full of young boys!

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      To be clear, Joe Paterno is not being accused of molesting any children. He's being accused of failing to follow-up after he reported a case of molestation to the head of campus security.

      Which is atrocious enough as it is, but not the same thing as molesting anyone.

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        And, to be fair, allowing the alleged molester to continue to be on campus and around kids, long after he first had heard the report of the alleged molesters behavior.

        That is very similar to the behavior of the Catholic hierarchy, which moved known molesters to parish to parish.

        Those bishops should have been held criminally accountable, but they've skated. It's unclear what will be the legal fate of Joe Paterno.

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    Carla, generally an excellent piece. I give you a pass (not following college football) for not knowing that Sandusky was already retired from Penn State in 2002 when the allegation was brought to JoePa.

    There is no excuse for JoePa, McQueary or his father for not notifying the police of what McQueary saw in 2002 right after he saw and reported to his father and then Paterno.

    I understand the anger, outrage and let down. I think you recognize that the same culture of silence and coverup existed here in Oregon politics and allowed Goldschmidt to remain unscathed for 30 years.

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    Change the name Paterno to Goldschmidt.

    "A man in authority was raping children. A bunch of people in the system knew about it. None of them reported it to the police. None of them did anything to try and rescue those children." Many people who looked the other way with Neil still hold major sway in Oregon, including elected federal office.

    Nice y'all can find so much righteous indignation for Paterno; too bad there's never much around here for the Goldschmidt apologists. (Too the contrary, those who would expose them are accused of "spreading bullsh*t.")

    Stay gold, BO.

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      Please cite an apologist for Goldschmidt "around here"...?

      Oh that's right, you are simply blowing smoke out your ass.

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        I believe if you read Steve's post carefully, he was asking where is the righteous indignation for the Goldschmidt apologists which is different from accusing BlueOregon posters of being Goldschmidt apologists themselves.

        I would guess that he is referring back to Kari's posts several year ago ripping Fred Leonardt for insisting that he told Ted Kulongoski about Goldschmidt's child sexual abuse a decade before Ted was elected governor and appointed Goldschmidt chair of the board of higher education.

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          An analysis with which you agreed, I might add:

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            Yes, which reflects the complexity in these situations that is often lost in the oversimplification. I am convinced that Fred Leonardt is absolutely sincere in what he has been saying and I believe that he has been telling the truth. That doesn't mean that his recollection and understanding of those conversations is the same as Ted's either now or at the time.

            I think Penn State was right to can Paterno but I am not nearly so quick to demonize Paterno as I beleive many are precisely because these things are rarely as clear and obvious to the people directly involved at the time as they appear in retrospect to those who have the benefit both of hindsight and total lack of accountability.

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              Paterno should have called the police. There's no excuse for not doing it.

              We're talking about child sexual abuse from a firsthand witness.

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                Paterno wasn't a firsthand witness. He was passed on a report from a firsthand witness to his athletic director, as required by Pennsylvania law.

                Paterno himself admits he should have done more, which is more than any of the people who knew about Goldschmidt's crime. Fred Leonardt has a whole list of who they are. No one cares.

                No Democrat was willing to finger David Wu either until he was safely re-elected and there was no risk it would cost the them their precious congressional seat. The sanctimonious hypocrisy here is palpable.

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                  Paterno got the information from a first hand witness, Jack.

                  Btw, lots of Dems were willing to finger David Wu. But the victims were afraid to come forward. I was personally working on two angles of that story but couldn't write it due to victims not wanting their name or information released to the public.

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                  Thank you Jack, my understanding is Paterno told two people and his only crime was not following up in some meaningful way. He did everything he was legally required to do x2. The amount of personal knowledge he had of what took place wouldn't even have made him a potential witness in court because it was all hearsay.

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        You misread my comment, MG.

        Lots of people looked the other way with Goldschmidt, and many of them now hold influential, well-compensated positions (including federal office).

        And they all continue to get a pass here at BO -- even by those like Carla, who weren't writing here when Neil's evil deeds came to light. (Can we assume she would have called for Kulongoski's head had she been writing here 4 years ago?)

        Where's the indignation for all these people who didn't call the cops and let Neil get away with child rape for so many years?

        Meanwhile, those who call BS get hammered by KC:

        I don't see how Kulongoski's any different than Paterno... except that Paterno actually told somebody about the child rape he'd become aware of.

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          @Steve: Why would I call for Kulongoski's head, exactly? One guy is making these claims--with no corroboration. No decent person makes that call without at least two solid sources.

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      I wasn't blogging when the Goldschmidt revelations came to light--so I couldn't speak to that at the time.

      But if we're going to fall all over ourselves to point fingers at people who didn't speak up, Republicans and conservatives in Oregon were pretty quiet when revelations came out about John Minnis sexually assaulting an underling at the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training. Minnis later settled with the woman--and cost the State of Oregon a bunch of money in the process.

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    Football is a religion to many Americans. Its veteran coaches are the "untouchables" and they are the equivalent red hatted hierarchy who are beyond human foibles.

    As a survivor of sex abuse by RC clergy in a diocese where the bishop threatened a mother and her abused son if they exposed the truth, I see amazing parallels here in the Penn State story. When I graduated from high school in 1966, Joe Paterno was made head coach and has remained so until this week. He is a living saint to fans of Penn State, not a fallible and even cowardly human being who was afraid to expose a member of his staff because of the shame that would fall on the sacrosanct Penn State football program. He was unwilling to protect children first. Even in the Christian Gospels that is the worst sin.

    What is equally disgusting is the display of the Penn State fans and students who want to shield their elevated saint from removal of his veneer of deference and preserve their own illusions, even at the cost of not protecting children.

    I saw a copy of the letter of the Irish monsignor who wrote a letter to the bishop of Eastern Oregon in the 1960s, expressing his primary worry that the shame and scandal would fall on the Church if the truth were to come out. So they did nothing and passed on the abuser to other churches and communities. And I also read the words of the present Pope Benedict, then Cardinal Ratzinger, who when the scandal of the Catholic Church first went public in the U.S. said it was total creation of the American press.

    No significant difference......

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      You should feel good about what you did and it is why in Oregon and 39 other states the requirement of a mandatory reporter is to report to child protective services (or in some states law enforcement) but the law in Pennsylvania to this day simply requires reporting to your supervisor.

      You're one of the few people I've heard comment on this situation who has actually been in the position of having to step up and report when someone else who should have didn't.

      What we need to do is make what you did the rule rather than the exception. We need to start by figuring our why people don't report and changing that dynamic rather than assuming that everyone should just naturally have the courage to do what you did because it's obvious that many people don't (just as your superior didn't).

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        Jack--one reason why people don't report is because when they do, there are times when they are belittled and mocked by those they report to.

        BTDT. I still report (mandatory reporter) but I got a long lecture one time (whilst reporting a clear case of neglect and abuse of a developmentally delayed student) about how I just didn't understand the "culture of poverty" from the DHS worker. Baloney. Neglect is neglect, and there's a difference between circumstances caused by poverty and circumstances caused by neglect. DHS itself has a lot to answer for.

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          Back when the incident happened that I wrote about, CSD (then) was prompt and thorough. I called at lunch, they were in the building within 2 hours and the child did not go home. As for feeling good about what I did, I do, of course. But that feeling is often swamped by the anger and dismay I (still) feel toward those who ignored the clear signs. And by the pain I feel for the child; all this discussion tends to blur the focus which should stay clearly on the children.

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    What is clearly at play here is a a lack of commitment to protect children by people in positions of status and position, and lack of perspective from the larger culture about the value of sports and sports personalities. This leads to a deference and a respect that is not deserved. (exhibit A -the students and fans of Penn State.)People, sports is entertainment. It does not reach the level of heroic activity, yet we value sports celebrities as heroes. Putting on football pads does not make you a man. Real men and real heroes are men and women who put themselves and their personal well-being at risk to protect the defenseless and home and country. That clearly did not happen here. A real man would have physically intervened when witnessing a child being raped and physically protected the child and if, necessary, beat the holy s**t out of the rapist, and then called 911. Running off to tell the almighty coach, who tells the almighty athletic director is all about CYA and protecting yourself.

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    I'm not sure I can help people make sense of this. I grew up in Midwest sports country and spent a decade at Schembechler U followed by Krzyzweski U. It doesn't surprise me that fans look up to athletes and to coaches, and JoPa was certainly one of a kind. He survived for nearly a half century in one of the most football crazy states in the country, playing a large role in changing Penn State from a ag school to a internationally known university. And until now, the program was squeaky clean.

    But I don't think this is uniquely American, or some outgrowth of income differentials, or even a product of American sports culture. Really this is human nature, with all of its warts.

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      Paul, you seem to be asserting that it is human nature to protect patriarchal institutions rather than protect young children. I believe that is a function of learned imposition of patriarchal culture rather than something innate to the species. Whether it is the residue of learned culture or innate to a flawed human nature, it needs to be held to the light of greater scrutiny and held accountable to our higher nature and better angels. Entrenched institutional evil that can protect a child rapist for years has no place in civilized life, and should have no hiding place, even if it is habitual unconscious custom to do so. "Squeaky clean" can easily be an illusion, as many Roman Catholics have found, and some still adhere to. The male authority who you respect and trust may be raping your own child, or hiding the one who does, and is, in fact, your worst enemy.

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        As an addendum to my immediate post upstream, the question might be asked, would this travesty committed by the Penn St. Football program and Athletic Dept. leadership have happened at all, if it were a comparable organization run and controlled by women? Would the crimes against children committed by the Roman Catholic Church clergy,and the decades of entrenched cover-up have happened if it were an organization run and controlled by women and infused with feminine values? I think not, but it's a question worth considering when we look at the question of the cultural indoctrination by and for patriarchal institutional power and the extent to which its power and abuse are perpetrated, and too often allowed by the larger society. (I make an important distinction here between what is male and what is patriarchal.)

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    It really wasn't Paterno's place to call the cops. Sandusky was not under his employ, and PA law indicates that the head of the organization is the one charged with making the report. He COULD have, maybe on a personal level SHOULD have (and Paterno admits he certainly could have done more), but I think we underestimate what it's like to hear something despicable about a longtime friend, hearsay, and decide what to do about it. I bet a lot of people excoriating Paterno, would in his place have also done just the minimum required.

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