Wednesday, December 28, 2011

End-of-Year College Football Post

This has been an annual event the past few years, despite the circumstance that I never actually watch any of the games. Old readers will know that most of these reports include a recap of my favorite team's season, that being (*cough, cough*) the Nittany Lions of Pennsylvania State University. The scandal there so overshadowed everything else that went on this season that nearly the whole of this year's review will be in reference to it.

As I often note here, I am a native of the state of Pennsylvania and lived there for most of my childhood. Almost all of my extended family, including both parents and siblings, though most of these are estranged from some part of the rest in various ways, still live there, and many of them, as well as numerous other old family friends and other acquaintances, are alumni of the University that Joe Paterno built, most retaining a comparatively high degree of school spirit many decades after graduation. While I did not attend PSU myself, I did apply there, and they actually did accept me. While the place held some appeal to me, deep down I knew I would be eaten alive socially and that this would cause me to be depressed and probably to flunk out of school. Indeed I barely functioned socially at my eventual alma mater, of which a friend of one of my classmate's visiting for the weekend declared while perusing the scene in the cafeteria during Friday night dinner, "I have never seen so many unhip people in my life." But I digress. Even later in life, up to as recently as 6 or 7 years ago, I was given to contemplating the possibility of taking the whole family down there for a couple of years to get some kind of master's degree, the subject of and purpose for which, other than as an excuse to get away from my routine work and home life and be once again, temporarily at least, in an academic environment as a plausible actual participant in the life of the mind, always remaining nebulous, nothing ever came of it.

Nationally the school, which is of course humongous, came in for a scourge of consternation, mostly focused on the culture surrounding the football program and the fecklessness of the administration or anybody else in a position of potential moral authority to stand up to it, but there were certainly plenty of voices suggesting that the whole atmosphere of the place must be infested with spiritual and moral rot. I appreciate that it is easy when one has no previous positive sense for a place to imagine that the whole culture must be awful. I felt something of the sort regarding Virginia Tech after the mass murder there, my reaction being heavily influenced by the extreme distaste I felt for the people and lifestyle in the D.C. suburbs in the northern part of that state during a brief period when I lived there, and which general area I knew the murderer and doubtless many of the people he perceived to be a major cause of his misery to be from. However tenuous and fanciful my emotional ties to Penn State are, I was nonetheless unable to react to the crisis there with the same instinctual repulsion as regarded the place as a whole.

Once the story broke, it reached an extremely high degree of intensity within a few days. Large numbers of people were furious, not merely at all of the parties implicated in abetting the crimes, but at seemingly anyone in the general public who was not sufficiently indignant and unforgiving on every point regarding those above-named, and in some instances the entirety of the university as well. Obviously as a soft person by nature, I felt myself to be implicated among those not responding with proper heat to what I was hearing. This is not simply the result of toadying to Joe Paterno and the football team, of which I am not exactly the most devoted fan--I have never attended a game, or any college game, in person, and I don't think I have watched a full one on televsion since probably the mid-90s--it is more the curse of my havinga mild temperament. I know very well that people who sexually abuse children have to be imprisoned and ostracized and disgraced--but I do not seem to be able to feel the same release or sense of vindication at seeing this comeuppance exacted that others do. A person in shackles is almost always a wretched spectacle, depressing, in most instances emblematic of civilizational failure. I can take no relish or sense of satisfaction in it.

Regarding Joe Paterno's demise as a result of the scandal, unhappily revealed to be necessary the more the story played itself out, there is little I can say. While I had been for the most part ambivalent towards what I took to be his setting a good example for the New America by never retiring even though he was well into his eighties, in hindsight it is clear he probably should have stepped down a decade ago at least; the picture painted of the program and the administration of the university as a whole was sclerotic, hidebound and sheltered in a way not only unbecoming but unsettling; especially in terms of the dynamic, cosmopolitan, and forward-looking ideals which are supposed to govern institutions such as major universities in our time. I do not know that this would have prevented his former assistant coach from committing the crimes alleged against him, though perhaps the university would not have been so intimately entwined in the case as it finds itself now. I know that one of the main thrusts of the public outrage was that no one, including Joe Paterno, called the police immediately upon discovering what was happening, though I have never heard of an instance in any powerful, high-status hierarchical masculine endeavor where someone in any position of prominence turned over to the police a high-ranking associate of long-standing who had demonstrated loyalty and professional competence and been instrumental in any substantial degree to the group's success for any crime not personally directed upon the associate's own persom, and not even always then. Such things are not done in that kind of environment. I must admit, I find the idea myself of turning an ancient friend, or, God forbid, one of my children over to the police and legal system even though I knew them to be committing unacceptable crimes to be highly distasteful. Is there no other means of reform? No, there isn't, I suppose, and I shall have to be on guard as to what my conscience is telling me about the seriousness of what I am privy to in the thankless event that anything of this unpleasant nature ever comes to my direct knowledge.

On the other hand, following my conscience may not do any good either, since I do believe that Joe Paterno had a real blind spot concerning the seriousness of what was going on. The impression I got from his body language and his statements in the aftermath of the breaking of the scandal was, initially, bewilderment, followed by a steadily dawning realization that this was a much bigger deal than it had ever occurred to him. I may be wrong, but I do not have the sense that whatever knowledge he had of the crimes were tormenting him on a regular basis over a period of years, that his mind was constantly uneasy with the fear of being exposed. The whole thing really seemed to catch him somewhat by surprise. I have observed in other instances people of his generation not responding to confirmed reports of child sexual abuse with the horror that it is now expected a respectable adult would feel instinctively. When the Catholic priest abuse scandals first began to break I remember that my late grandparents, who were around Joe Paterno's age, were indeed outraged--at the accusers. I do not know whether they were simply unable to visualize apparently normal-functioning adults, especially ones in respected positions, performing the acts they were accused of, or if their instinct was not to trust the word of an adolescent or much younger person against an adult of proven responsibility, especially when the incidents were alleged to have taken place many years previously. I think we do underestimate how strong this latter instinct was in people of that generation, since we do not hold it very important in our own time.
Having been listening to Joe Paterno speak and watched him coach the team most of my life, while I obviously cannot claim to know him, and have always recognized that like all human beings he obviously has multifarious limitations which previously did not seem overwhelmingly important to dwell upon, I confess that I had always had a generally positive opinion of him, considering him as a football coach, as opposed to followers of other professions, and while I find the end to his career disheartening to say the least, he was I think at his best a genuinely positive force in his field, his sport, his university and his state; certainly he tried to be these things, and succeeded in them to a greater degree than most people are able to do.

My one non-Penn State note in this year's review refers to the first LSU-Alabama game which I saw about a half hour of between either falling asleep or performing one of my endless domestic duties. I am generally anti-SEC in my football sentiments, though in a sporting kind of way, and as the traditional poster child of old-school southern football, Alabama's team has always been especially pernicious to my northern eyes. As I noted previously on the site, I finally went to Alabama for the first time this past summer, and while I admittedly only saw about 20 people, they were decent and well-mannered and presentable enough, and the state-run park and facilities I stayed at were beautiful and well-maintained, so while I still can't abide the football program, I have a more positive impression of the state than I had formerly. All that acknowledged, I have to give some credit to the many Alabama fans and students (the game was in Tuscaloosa) who turned up smartly groomed and dressed, which outside of the Army-Navy game, you almost never see. Almost all of these people I am talking about of course are the kind of white, wealthy southern Republicans that make most of the people I would know reflexively gag, and I would probably think they were evil myself if I actually met most of them, but truly, young people who take some pride in their appearance and dress with some sense of a classic style really look great and stand out as above the crowd whether you like them or not.

This will close the posting year, which was a weak one. There is no direction where this site is concerned, so we will probably continue to go on in 2012 pretty much as we have been.

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