Tuesday, November 29, 2011

ESPN reaps what it sows. None of us are better for it.

The criticism of ESPN in the Bernie Fine case is misdirected, though the network deserves to be criticized for an entirely different reason. I suppose eventually bad business practices will come around to bite you eventually.  
First, the Mothership was correct not to report in 2003. With two accusing sources and a phone conversation between a deranged wife and an accuser is not enough sourcing to ruin a man's life when it's just as possible a vendetta against him. 
As a news gathering service, part of ESPN's duty is to look for foul behavior, make sure that it's foul, either through strict cross-examination of witnesses if not by substantial police interrogation. Like any other cover-up or corruption, a news source is not supposed to report until they have enough credible evidence that it holds up. 
The moral obligation of a news network in this situation is to get the facts straight, then report to the world. To do anything else would lead to TMZ style journalism.
In Penn State's case, educators had a moral obligation to make sure one of their own wasn't abusing kids in their own locker room, particularly after another educator on staff witnessed it firsthand.  That the media reported a failure to do so was in no way irresponsible.

Both Penn State and ESPN failed to live up to these moral guidelines and both should be punished appropriately. However, 
ESPN was wrong to publish the story at all. Penn State failed to act that it could even become a story in the first place. This is not the apples to apples comparison Penn State fans want it to be. 
I am not taking a stance on Bernie Fine's innocence, but it's not clear cut. His wife's recorded phone conversation certainly draws a lot of questions, less about Fine's behavior and more about her own.
Obviously this creates enough of a distraction at the school that he can't do his job properly. It also endangers the players and coaches he works with.
Without a proper investigation, Fine should have been placed on a leave of absence until the dust settles. Perhaps the same is true of Joe Paterno, but with Fine, there is not a three-year researched, 23-page document that shows credible evidence suggesting a cover-up. Paterno may have gotten his leave of absence if he hadn't tried to call his own shots; something the board of directors finally got sick of.

ESPN's going to face the consequences from both ends because of its unfair treatment at Penn State. With the NBA in a lockout and college basketball not yet started, the Network needed to fill their news cycle and Penn State provided an easy mid-week target.
Now other networks are going to use ESPN's failure to report in 2003 as an easy story, even though all of them would have done the same for ethical and moral reasons.
With ESPN's ridiculous defense of its actions a few weeks ago, it will now have to face the same unfair scrutiny or be labeled hypocritical.
Maybe ESPN will finally learn the value of civil rights, even as it applies to business. As Brother Ali asked,
"The moment you refuse the human rights of just a few/ What happens when that few includes you?"

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Burn in hell, Jerry

Last night I sat in the bar thinking, either Jerry Sandusky is truly innocent or he has the confidence of a serial killer not yet apprehended on this planet. As if he hadn't inappropriately touched his victims enough in their lives, Monday he sent another painful reminder.
Any time someone tells you Bob Costas isn't the best sports broadcaster or interviewer in the nation, show them that clip. The dude has the calm of a Hindu cow and the composure and focus of a lion on the Serengeti, lying low in the grass, waiting for its prey.
Even when Costas likes his interviewees, there are no softballs to be found. If he's got a point to make, he'll find your weakness and won't even flinch as he slowly but surely puts all his emphasis on the pressure points. His words are weapons.
"Obviously you're entitled to a presumption of innocence and will receive a vigorous defense,"  Costas said. "On the other hand, there's a tremendous amount of information out there and fair minded, common sense people have concluded that you are guilty of monsterous acts. They are particularly unforgiving about the type of crimes alleged here. So, millions of Americans who did not know Jerry Sandusky's name until a week ago now regard you, not only as a criminal, but I say this, I think in a considered way, some sort of monster. How do you respond to that?"
Jesus. How DO you respond to that?
The first time I watched it, I couldn't help but grin. The first ounce of justice was being served with a  through national embarrassment on television.
I couldn't contain my laughter, and neither could Sandusky when Costas said, "It seems that, if all of these accusations are false, you are the unluckiest and most persecuted man that any of us has ever heard about."

Reading between the lines, Sandusky's so confident with how he left his victims, he believed they would watch  in fear or, what sickened me worse, adoration of the man who violated them. He couldn't possibly believe this for all of them, could he?
I'm beginning to think his lawyer, Joe Amendola, must be secretly working for the other side. The only reason you'd put a client in this position is if you could guarantee the silence of the other victims. This only works when they are murdered and buried.  Even friggin' Hector Salamanca had a bell. 
I wrote my brother to tell him it was the single dumbest thing a man guilty of these types of crimes could do. More would come forward, disgusted by his cavalier attitude
And here... we... go. Again.
I never say this without feeling bad about it later, but this time I think I'm safe. Burn in hell Jerry.

Monday, November 14, 2011

We Are and Always Will Be Penn State

(This column originally ran in the Nov. 11 edition of the Gettysburg Times)
I went to Penn State to become a sports writer. I left Penn State a complete person who had an affinity for writing about sports.

Growing up, there were two traditions in our house every fall weekend. On Saturdays, we watched Penn State football. On Sundays, we went to church. Perhaps each was an indoctrination to what I would hope to become.
I never really understood the myth behind Joe Paterno. For me, he was just a goofy caricature behind thick glasses and rolled up pant legs. I believed in him almost the way I believed in God; not because I wanted to, but because my parents told me it was the right thing to do. At 11, I wasn't sure I'd ever felt the hand of God, but I hoped it felt like the chill that ran down my neck when Ki-Jana Carter ran for a long touchdown. I went to Penn State because I wanted to feel that way every Saturday. That the school had a good journalism program was a secondary benefit.
However, when I began attending classes, I took an interest in religious studies, psychology and journalism. While studying Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism and Islamic religions, I noticed similar trends in all of them. The story was important only as a teaching tool. While traditions were meant to keep people mindful of their philosophic origins, fundamental extremism created more hatred between groups than peace amongst them.
The encoded messages within the texts were the important strands that connected the religions: be kind to others but do not let people take your kindness for weakness, stand up for those who are unable to stand up for themselves, moderation in all things, remove emotion from experience when making important decisions. 
During my time at Penn State, I stopped believing in the football program and started believing in the community. There was a special unity in major celebrations like THON, but pep rallies, parties and the first warm day of spring also made us feel alive. State College is a city built for hopeful, excited youthful minds to meet and discuss ideas. I truly believe that was JoePa's vision of The Grand Experiment.
However, working at the school newspaper, The Daily Collegian, the university administration was swift to deny information that could make it look vulnerable to mistakes. The football team, while still mostly representative of the strong culture at Penn State, also seemed more corruptible than anything on campus. One of my favorite Daily Collegian alumni, Chris Korman, wrote a fantastic blog entry for The Baltimore Sun entitled "The Toy Department: How we got here," that details it far better than I ever could.
We want to believe that glorious men with bold visions can do no wrong. As we grow older, we're encouraged to fortify our moral code and our ethics. However, our intrinsic vision is not a simple spinal column, but an extravagant display -- an entire nervous system. When it's running perfectly, it has massive potential. Sometimes we encounter an idea that spreads like a disease, or even worse, a cancer. It's our duty to protect our own intellectual health, but we depend on others to help keep it in check.
When we look at our leaders and our communities, we forget that they have this same potential for dysfunction.
Obviously we could never have dreamed a horrible scandal like the one that's now claimed our president and head coach would swallow the school. The truth is, we should have seen the potential. We propped up Paterno and the football team without enforcing the same discipline he expected from us. As outside observers, we could see that he was falling behind his own intellectual vision, yet refused to keep him in check.
In 2003, wide receiver Tony Johnson was pulled over for a DUI, blowing a .136 after crossing over the median twice. Paterno said he was a good kid who made a mistake and didn't need to be punished. In 2006, when referring to Florida State's A.J. Nicholson's sexual assault case, he opined, "He may not have even known what he was getting into. … A cute girl knocks on the door. What do you do? Thank God they don't knock on my door. I'd refer them to a couple of other rooms."
These are just two of several examples. Forty years ago, Joe could have gotten away with saying either one of those things. In the modern era, he was shouted down. Johnson served a two-game suspension after the university decided to redirect. Many supporters respected Paterno less after the Nicholson comment.
The point is not that Joe didn't know right from wrong; it's that the lines of modern morality -- which remain fluid -- shifted beyond his comprehension. It should have been clear, even then, that he was no longer fit of mind to coach 18-to-22 year olds.
With our faith in Paterno so large, we missed the signs and did nothing to act. Ritual becomes dangerous when we forget why we practice it. The whole point of 'success with honor' was that discipline, work ethic and integrity could prevail. With athletics, if we're not careful, we forget that.
Paterno may not have been the conductor, but if he'd stayed true to himself, he'd have kept the program on the right path.
JoePa will always be more complex than the cardboard cutout a purist or cynic wants us to believe. He is more than just a man with 409 victories and a Grand Experiment. He's more than just a man who, through loyalty to his cause and possibly to his perverted friend, enabled a predator or at least endangered his innocent victims.
Evil prevails when good men fail to act. Joe Paterno was and is a good man. Evil prevailed.
There is potential for a great void where high moral authority used to stand at Penn State. Wednesday, we saw the misplaced anger of a small percentage of students rioting to try to fill it -- a literal rejection of the halo of silence that continues to irk us all as we search for answers. Though most students and alumni do not agree with the rioters' actions, we certainly understand their sentiment.
We should take our time to mourn, but we cannot wait long to take action.
We expected more from a leader, but we should also be aware that our leaders need a break. We should assist them – be their bridge as they enter the next chapter of their life. As we move forward, we must expect more from ourselves to make sure that bridge from one leader to the next is frictionless.
If WE ARE to be taken seriously as a school and as a community of Nittany Lions and Penn State pride, we must stand up for what the lively Paterno of old would have if he had been born into today's society.
My friend and fellow Nittany Lion, Pat Abdalla of the York Daily Record, suggested Penn State use the proceeds of this weekend's game toward an institute for abused children, taking the lead on education for preventing similar cases. Others have suggested a moment, quarter, half or even game of silence against Nebraska to show solidarity for the victims.
I've never been a man of grand gestures. Moments like this force me to look at myself and ask if I'm living up to my own moral code, one that not only I, but also my community can be proud of. Have I acted with discipline, or in my own self-interest with disregard for my community? Do I understand what makes my community proud? If not, how can I get back in touch?
We must not allow ourselves to become tools of those who wish to control us -- caricatures of a time that once was. We must strive for progress while maintaining moral discipline. Maybe after saying, "We are Penn State," this weekend we should follow with, "We can be more."
I forgive Paterno for losing sight of his values and failing to realize he needed a break. If he's true to his retirement speech, he will return a great hero, ready to improve the university and the world. He already has a great track record for it.
Thanks for the great coaching memories, JoePa. Hopefully you still have a few more lessons to teach.