Monday, July 23, 2012

Burying Caesar

There are so many circumstances in life where some of the first words that come to my mind, to frame my response to a given situation, are those penned by Shakespeare.
As the continuing tragedy of what happened at Penn State over several decades unfolds, heroes once held high are thrown down and their memories trampled on.  With the sanctions decree of the NCAA being announced today, the words of Mark Anthony came to mind.

As with so many of the long speeches Shakespeare penned for his characters, this one is filled with nuances.  It gives, and it takes away.  I could almost read this speech and substitute Paterno's name for Caesar.  I don't know who would fill in for Brutus, for there have been many who have rendered judgment, sometimes in hopes of claiming higher moral authority than what they believe Paterno possessed.

Paterno has now been cast as the villain.  I don't know if he was or not.  It is all an ex post facto indictment to my thinking.  Since we know the outcome, we look back and at each step where we think Paterno "could have or should have" we render judgment as though he knew the end of it all, even at the beginning.  Of course, that is not possible.  Paterno himself indicated that he wished he had done more.

The Freeh report has painted Paterno as virtually all-knowing and complicit in every way from the beginning.  I am not convinced.  Reading a trail of emails, with indefinite references at times, can cause the reader to reach false conclusions, and having reached those conclusions can then give the reader the framework upon which to build a searing indictment of culpability. 

One administrator writes "after talking with Joe..." and the Freeh report concludes that Joe then knew.  But did he?  Do we trust the third hand report?  Too many questions. 

In case you have forgotten the Mark Anthony speech that you may have memorized in school, here it is.  You can substitute Paterno for Caesar, if you wish.  There is a certain resonance in doing that.  And while you are substituting, perhaps the name Freeh stands in for Brutus.

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answer'd it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest--
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men--

Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.

He hath brought many captives home to Rome
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.

You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.

I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.


Climenheise said...

Two thoughts. 1) The harm done by Sandusky is terrible. As Paterno himself said, we should continue to look for ways to help with the long difficult process of healing, and with procedures to avoid future such incidents when possible. 2) The punishment handed out to Penn State does not seem to me to do either of these things. Rather it responds to a societal thirst for revenge. It may even punish some of those who were so brutalized by Sandusky. You called this "an ex post facto indictment". I think you have nailed it. It is right that we see and acknowledge Paterno's flaws, but Sandusky is the real villain.

Beverly said...

Thanks for your thoughtful post. I agree with the above commenter. Who is really being punished?

Liza Lee Miller said...

Here are my thoughts. I agree with all that you said. I think the judgement was harsh. However, this school clearly knew (or should have known) that something was going on at various levels. In order to protect their football program, they ignored horrible crimes against children. If the NCAA is going to say that this is unacceptable and will be punished in an over-the-top manner . . . I'm pretty much okay with that. I think it's a huge improvement over the ignoring of such behavior and wrist-slapping that has gone on in the past.

That said, I hope this is the beginning of a time where all sorts of misconduct in football programs are taken that seriously -- not just the truly horrible ones.

NCmountainwoman said...

While I agree wholeheartedly that evidence Paterno's complicity is questionable, I do think that removal of his statue was the route to go.

As for the sanctions, I do not believe they were too harsh. The highest officials of Penn State ignored heinous behavior rather than put the slightest tarnish on its esteemed (and money-making) football program. Yes, it is harsh on the athletes and others who did no wrong. But the athletes have an avenue in being allowed to transfer without the usual penalty of waiting out a year.

The punishment was indeed harsh but I believe it is justified based on the number of people involved, the time span over which Sandusky was allowed to continue to molest children and the perjury at early hearings. When any school places a popular sport above integrity the misplaced values must be corrected.

I do feel sorry for all those students, faculty, coaches and others who are absolutely innocent yet must still live under the black banner of shame that clouds over Penn State. It is sad for all around, not just those in PA.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

I am not sympathetic to those implicated in this horrible crime that went on for years. Any shame or punishment felt by the principals involved, or the school or football program shrinks to inconsequence compared to the harm that was done.

I hope the lesson is learned by other schools with high powered athletic programs that they have moral responsibilities beyond the business of athletics and school administration.

Anvilcloud said...

I have no comment on the case, but I will say that Julius Caesar was my first introduction to Shakespeare, and since this is very near the beginning (I think) I could probably still more or less quote the first few lines.

Climenheise said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Climenheise said...

About 45 minutes ago I posted a comment, which I am now removing. I will make my point instead in my own blog ( Just to note here that "Pebbles" (with whom I usually find myself in agreement) said essentially, "The crime was so bad that nothing is too bad for the perpetrators." While I agree with his valuation of the crime, I feel a real sense of caution that we may find ourselves effectively lynching those who did not commit the crime, namely Paterno and Penn State. if they are later found guilty in a court of law -- as may happen if legal action materialises -- then we can speak judgment on them also. At the least Paterno made a critical mistake. At the most he deliberately chose to protect the university and ruin the lives of many boys. But to assume the latter is more (I think) than the evidence shows. So my sense of caution. more on my own blog, rather than embroiling my sister in debates she did not choose in her blog.

Ginnie said...

It's the cover-up aspect of all these types of crimes that bothers me most ... as with the Catholic priests. It boggles my mind.