Yet, as disgusted as I may be about the crimes, as much as I agree that college football is hopelessly hypocritical, I find myself shaking my head at the eagerness of our media, politicians and university officials to buy into mob mentality.
Three people face criminal charges in the sex abuse scandal -- the alleged abuser himself plus two university muckety mucks who are charged with covering up his crimes. To date, there have been indictments, and a summary of grand jury proceedings. There have been no confessions. Nor any convictions.
And none of those charged are named Joe Paterno.
His firing illustrates how the concept of innocent until proven guilty can so easily get trampled by the court of public opinion. To hear some critics tell it, Paterno is just as guilty as the alleged child rapist himself.
Shame on all of us for taking such an idea seriously.
We have seen Paterno and a university president -- his name is Graham Spanier by the way -- get fired by trustees who THEN they promised to launch an "investigation." Uh, aren't the firings supposed to happen AFTER the facts have been gathered?
No one has adequately explained why was it so necessary to make a snap decision in this case. Why couldn't Paterno be suspended pending investigation? After all, the prosecutors who actually had full access to the facts had chosen specifically NOT to charge the legendary head coach. Maybe they actually had good reason.
But nobody was willing to wait, not even a few days or weeks, to find out how much Paterno knew, and when he knew it. Assume all you want in your own mind. But if you have the power to fire people and destroy their legacy, their livelihood, and more, then I say the actual facts matter -- a lot.
This sort of ready, fire, aim mentality disturbs me. The trustees appear just as hot-headed, paranoid and unable to control their emotions as the silly crowds of howling immature students stomping around campus. The trustees are supposed to be the sober ones, right?
Yet, without anything close to a full set of facts, it was "off with his head!" And the collateral damage hasn't stopped yet.
The witness who supposedly helped bring these crimes to light was pulled from his job. He is being attacked by "the public" as both a traitor to Penn state's legacy and as a villian who didn't stop an alleged rape-in-progress.
Funny how people who weren't in the shower room, who weren't in the grand jury chambers, who have never seen the full report can pretend to know enough to second-guess and cast judgements upon one of the few documented good guys in this mess. Amazing that university officials are giving credence to this mob.
And where is the media in this? Mostly egging on the mob. I watched CNN bring on talking heads to blab about what Penn State has to do to rescue its "brand." Which assumes -- amazingly -- that something about the very nature of the university itself (aka the "brand") caused a creepy guy to seek sexual contact with little boys. How is such a crime the fault of Penn State's English department or its medical school? Yet there is somber head nodding about how the entire university has to change its ways to lift itself from the shadow of this scandal.
If there is a "brand" at Penn State that needs rehabbing, it would be limited to the football program. The volleyball coach, for example, should not be affected. But whose job will be cut first if the media onslaught succeeds at scaring away donations and forces budget cuts in the athletic program?
So why isn't anyone standing up to say, "Enough?" Why is this scandal tarring so many people that had nothing at all to do with it?
Who is it, exactly, that buys into the myth that a major university should be defined so utterly by its football program?
We do seem to live in a sports-saturated world. We allow ourselves to be guided by the nose by a massive media machine that has turned college football into a multi-billion-dollar business. It's ESPN and others that are cashing in from this scandal as they feed the 24-hour-news cycle by chasing every absurd angle of the Penn State scandal. And we just don't care who gets chewed up by the machine.
How absurd has it become?
Well, some people are actually debating with straight faces whether Penn State should be invited to a bowl game. So now the sex abuse scandal and alleged cover up is the players' fault? And therefore, the seniors on that team -- most of whom will never play another game after the season ends -- must be denied the capstone that a bowl game provides. Why? How does that punish an alleged child abuser? How does that help the alleged victims?
Unlike collateral damage in war, which involves the accidental, unintended deaths of innocents, the bowl game talk is deliberate. There's no excuse for it.
Meanwhile, the Big Ten pulled Joe Paterno's name off its championship trophy. Perhaps the single goofiest over-reaction yet. Major League Baseball wasn't even THAT stupid with Pete Rose. Here was a player (and coach) who actually committed the sport's greatest crime, yet his records stand in the very Hall of Fame that refuses to admit him. And Rose wasn't a bystander like Paterno, he was "convicted" after a very long, very public investigation.
Lord knows, we still debate Pete Rose in Cincinnati. However, nobody thinks his on-the-field accomplishments should be erased. Yet that's precisely what's happening to Paterno.
The few facts swimming around in the sea of judgement so far indicate that Paterno at least did the minimum -- he passed along an accusation precisely to the people who had the legal authority and moral responsibility to investigate further. He kicked it upstairs and didn't run straight to the cops. Paterno's crime is, at worst, a "moral crime" of not doing enough.
Yet for his sins of omission, the public thinks Paterno should be purged. He should be cast out as a pariah from a sport with a history utterly laced with scandal, cheating and all manner of unpunished violations of all sorts of rules, regulations and laws.
If we want to talk precedents, then think about this: how many college co-eds have been raped over the years by football players? A lot of people think that many more rapes occurred beyond those charged and convicted. Yet some rapists WERE caught. They were convicted. In some cases, despite very real cover-up attempts.
But how many head coaches in those situations were were fired at all, much less before such players were actually convicted? How many of those coaches' names were purged by their conferences?
Who cares? This is now. That was then. The head-hunting mob expects Paterno's entire legacy to be stamped with a scarlet letter.
We even have lawmakers in Pennsylvania pandering to the mob by promising to pass new laws to make sure this "Never Happens Again." Has anybody spent even five seconds thinking about how terrible our world would become if everybody were legally obligated to report the crimes they think they saw?
Should old ladies be arrested for not filing complaints against gang members when they see a srug deal happening in their neighborhoods? Can you imagine the furball of false, incorrect and even malicious accusations that would result of people filing crime reports just to prevent punishment by the second-guessers?
Think that can't happen? If so, then you missed every lesson you ever learned about the Nazis, the Communists and the McCarthy-era red scares. When government can send YOU to jail for not turning in your neighbor, the secret police and re-education camps aren't far behind.
Fear and mob mentality can make people do very bad things.
Personally, I think all governmental bodies should face a six-month cooling off period before introducing any legislation that seeks "reform" after an emotional crime. After all, no politician can stand against a tidal wave of save-our-children sentiment. They cannot afford to be seen as defending a scum bag, no matter how stupid and ineffective the proposed "solution" may be.
This is supposed to be when a strong media helps save us from ourselves. This is supposed to be when the scribes, the photographers, the editors are watching where the herd is going -- and pointing out that we just might be heading over a cliff.
So where are the voices of calm and reason? We used to have people in various positions of authority, and within the media itself, who knew how to say..."Calm down. Let's get to the bottom of things before we do anything rash."
But in today's electronic, speed-of-rumor mob mentality, our media is just telling the herd to run even faster.
To me, the whole Penn State aftermath feels like blood lust.
Part of me thinks about the witch scene in Monty Python's Holy Grail. "How do you know she's a witch? Because she looks like one!" Except this isn't funny.
When people like Jerry Sandusky are accused of crimes this terrible, this is precisely when "innocent until proven guilty" matters the most. This is exactly the time when the media needs to go way out of its way to be truly fair and balanced. (When such words weren't poisoned by the Fox News slogan).
When people like Joe Paterno, who have legitimately built a lifetime of positive contributions, can be executed without trial in the kangaroo court of public opinion for doing no worse than not doing enough, we should take pause. We are trampling justice in our lust for punishment.
We are becoming the "purge."
We need to be better than this.