Thursday, November 10, 2011

How are the mighty fallen!

Perhaps it is no surprise that I ended up majoring in English literature in college.  While I had first intended to go into medicine, an early encounter in my freshman year with chemistry ended that goal, there was always one of my first loves waiting:  poetry.

I grew up listening to and reading the Bible--King James Version.  I now prefer other translations more, but for sheer poetry, it is hard to top the KJV command of language and its lovely poetic sounds.  So, with the unfolding news this week about Penn State University, the phrase that rushed to my mind is the title passage above--David's lament over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan.

The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places: how are the mighty fallen!
Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph.
Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew, neither let there be rain, upon you, nor fields of offerings: for there the shield of the mighty is vilely cast away, the shield of Saul, as though he had not been anointed with oil.
From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan turned not back, and the sword of Saul returned not empty. 
Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided: they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. 
Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with other delights, who put on ornaments of gold upon your apparel.  (2 Samuel 1:14-24)
Pure poetry.

If ever there were a "mighty" in our times, especially in the field of higher education, it would be Joe Paterno.

My husband and I have gone to Penn State football games for YEARS!  We began attending these rites of fall when a friend of ours offered us tickets for several games.  We eventually built up enough points to be able to buy our own tickets.  So, we got 4 season tickets--and another friend gave us a parking pass right next to the stadium--we were set.  We took along friends and always had a grand time watching great college football.

We even went to what turned out to be the second national championship game, when Penn State beat Miami in Phoenix.  What a grand time.  And when Penn State joined the Big Ten and won its championship and returned to the Rose Bowl to play New Year's Day--we went to that game.

Several years ago, we decided to stop going to all the home games, and have loaned our tickets to a colleague of my husband's.  But we still watch the games on HD TV. 

And now this news.
The much vaunted defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, who crafted the winning defensive strategy against Miami, was indicted for abusing 8 boys (and a ninth has since come forward) since the late 1990s.  In 1999, when told that he would NOT be named head coach to succeed Paterno, Sandusky took retirement.  He focused his attention on a charity he ran, called The Second Mile, which he founded to give at-risk children a better chance in life.  All the boys in this unfolding scandal were ones who came into contact with Sandusky through The Second Mile.

 The Penn State connection to this story is that a current assistant coach, while he was a graduate assistant, had inadvertently come upon Sandusky in the Penn State locker room showers and CAUGHT Sandusky, mid-abuse of a young boy.  The graduate assistant, shaken, retreated and went to talk with his father, who said--tell Paterno.  The graduate assistant did.  Paterno told his superior in the university, the athletic director, who in turn told the vice-president, who in turn told the president.  And, there, it seems, the trail stopped.

The current furor now is why didn't Paterno do more?
Who knows?  I really have no answer.

But the consequences for this grand old man of football--who has all his life lived by a personal ethical code par excellence, who has insisted his players graduate, who has lived in the Penn State community for decades, who has a listed telephone number and a published address, who has given millions of dollars to his university--this grand old man has now fallen.

Should he have been fired?  Should the other three university powers have been fired, as they were?  Should the graduate assistant have told ONLY his father and his coach?  On and on the questions go.

And all we are left with is the sinking feeling--HOW THE MIGHTY HAVE FALLEN!


Anvilcloud said...

I no longer follow football but JP was at Penn State a long time ago when I did follow it. The collective consciousness about such activity has since been raised, but it's hard to know how to judge the past in terms of current values.

NCmountainwoman said...

I feel so sorry for Joe Paterno and his family. That said, I do believe he should be fired. He cannot be absolved just because he reported the crime to his superiors. This was a egregious crime and having knowledge of the allegations it was Paterno's responsibility to see that police were informed.

I do have empathy for Paterno but I have to think of the young boys who were brutalized after Sandusky was caught in the act. Unfortunately, Joe Paterno is in part responsible by his silence.

Beverly said...

Having a son who graduated from Penn State, thought not a football player, I have followed PSU more than my own home state football teams. These last days have been just plain awful.

Thanks for your post. I agree with NCmountainwoman's comment...such a sad day for all concerned, but most of all, the boys who have been violated by someone who had been so trusted.

Anonymous said...

Having been sexually abused myself as a child, I wish I had been protected. There are so many layers to the cover up of this, and although I don't think the full responsibility is on JP, one would hope he had been so outraged that he would have fired his assistant coach on the spot years ago when it was reported to him. But he didn't. It was covered up on all levels. Yes, now lots of heads are going to roll since the public is aware. Better for everyone to do the right thing when the event happens! Marie

KGMom said...

@ AC-- true, we have learned more as time goes along, and what we tolerate has radically changed. Child abuse should never be tolerated, but our understanding of what it is has changed.
@ NC--I too am saddened for the Paterno family. Here's a 5 + decade legacy almost entirely wiped out by this circumstance. I personally think some of the reluctance evidenced along the way is indicative of latent homophobia--I think some of the men involved just didn't see this as CHILD abuse when they first encountered the evidence. We know they were wrong--but they were responding based on their on biases.

@ Beverly--yes, I recall your son attended PSU. And I know you have enjoyed my Happy Valley trip stories. Sad sad sad to see this giant brought down this way.

@ Marie--ah, sweetie. I remember your story. And it saddened me so when I first heard it, and it still grieves me today. What amazes me is that you are one of the MOST loving caring people I know. Your words are true--do the right thing RIGHT away.

possumlady said...

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

Now, we know that Joe P did do something, but clearly it was not enough. Knowing nothing about football or Joe P from before this scandal, from all accounts he seems like a decent man. I can't imagine he wasn't plagued with guilt for knowing that the higher ups had decided not to do anything about it and what that silence meant for some young innocent boys.

But, then again, many people are good at compartmentalizing, and the old adage, out of sight, out of mind may have been in play here.

Anvilcloud said...

I just came across what I think is a good article, so I thought I would pop back and offer to share it.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

Whatever the shame and cost to the institution and the adults implicated, it is small compared to the shame and cost for a lifetime for the victims.

That our heros have feet of clay, should not surprise us. . . but somehow it always does.

Climenheise said...

I want to bring my blog out of its somnolescence and think more about this. That Paterno should have done more is unarguable--he himself knows this. That the abuse went on so long is tragic, most of all for those abused. Following up in this area is the most critical part of the story (and possibly the part that will receive the least attention). But I am uneasy on several levels. I wish Paterno had retired earlier--othere stories suggest he was out of touch with the young men coached, even while remaining a competent coach and respected old man. But we are shaped so much by the time in which we grow up that I wish he had retired while he could still understand where the people he coached come from. (That wish applies to me also, as I observe the growing difficulty I have to understand the 20 somethings I teach.)

But this tragedy does not come from such lack of understanding. My uneasiness comes from a sense that we (as a society) project the guilt on to one person, because he was the most prominent. I'm sorting out my ideas, and may never work them out satisfactorily. But the problem I'm wrestling with is our desire to fix things "so that this never happens again" (which is in itself a good--but impossible--desire), expressed in ways that cause further damage to the wrong people.

Your reflections, Donna, are better than mine, I tihnk, because they describe more than analyse, and at this point such description is the best we can hope for.

Nance said...

We're an odd family. Neither my husband nor I have ever followed sports since college, except for a random televised golf match once a year or so. Our children, likewise, seem to have married people with marked disinterest in sports. Therefore, it is tempting for any one of us to become judgmental about sports-related scandals...and what a lot of them there are in recent years as investigative journalism thrives.

But the truth is, we humans become attached easily to things. A football team, a brand of coffee, an old pair of jeans, etc., and what we attach to is as much a matter of luck as anything else, so I cannot condemn those who follow a team for being part of the money culture that ladens college sports and leaves it vulnerable to scandal.

I can, however, judge those who grow attached to sex with children. And anyone who enables them, with either full or partial awareness, can find themselves drawn into that black hole of evil. May this particular evil cause all of us to take another look at the attachments we think of as harmless.

Ginnie said...

I agree with Philip (Tossing Pebbles)
"That our heros have feet of clay, should not surprise us. . . but somehow it always does."
Just as in the scandal of the Catholic Church ... it's the cover up that amazes!

Anonymous said...

where are the men today? where are the heroes? when a little old lady has to beat off a would be burglar with her purse and a 10 year old boy had to cry every niht waking in sweats at every bump in the night- we must ask ourselves- 'where are the men?' and 'who is supposed to be training them?' there W's a time when women didn't have to carry both yje man's curse (work outside the home) and woman's curse (the pains of childbearing). now- afraid to show any sign of weakness- we carry both burdens, while men- er, boys- crash in their mom's basements well into their adulthood (mooching) and complaining about having to help with chores while trying to figure out their next "get rich quick" scheme to cat h up on child support while their children are showering with the likes of Jerry and Joe Self-serving when they should be reading their kids the Bible and teaching them to punch the lights out of anyone trying to plant a kiss on their sister. where are the men? Christian female union carpenter for Christ, Godly men and all women blessed enough to be home with their children.