Yesterday we looked at Bill James’ initial comments defending Joe Paterno. His take: Paterno did what he was supposed to have done circa 1998 and what more could possibly have been asked of him? You know, apart from doing a single thing to prevent Jerry Sandusky from raping more children in the Penn State football facilities, which James apparently believes would have been some sort of super-human, above-and-beyond kind of thing.
One would figure that James would stop with that, but today on Doug Gottlieb’s ESPN Radio show, James doubled down. Not only does he continue to erroneously assert that Paterno did everything he could have done back in 1998, but he insists that the Sandusky coverup was the media’s fault. And that, sure, grown men showering with boys was something that was totally common 40 years ago.
“[Paterno] knew less about [Sandusky] than everyone else there … He had very few allies. He was isolated. He was not nearly as powerful as people imagine him to have been … they kept it quiet because they had no idea what was happening … they just thought they were dealing with a little misunderstanding … people who are responsible for it are the media. The media created this smokescreen behind which Sandusky operated, and then they’re trying to blame Paterno.”
There are no words.
Wait, there are words: stop it, Bill. You’re talking total nonsense. You’re being a contrarian because you like being a contrarain and you hate what you consider to be rushes to judgment, mob mentality and piling on. But this is one case where your instincts are failing you and you’re making yourself look like a fool.
If people don’t think anything particularly bad is happening, they do not commit a coverup of the magnitude and nature of the coverup which was committed at Penn State. And even if one thinks that Joe Paterno’s power within Penn State was somehow less than what is generally assumed — which is silly, as the man was the closest thing to a God at that institution — what difference does it make? One need not have some exalted status to pick up a phone and call the police. Indeed, the grand jury investigation which eventually uncovered all of this ugliness was launched by a phone call from the parents of one of the victims.
Any number of people could have stopped Sandusky. It has been conclusively proven that Paterno and many other members of the Penn State hierarchy had sufficient information as far back as 1998 and without question as soon as 2002 that could have and should have put Sandusky in prison and which would have spared countless young boys from his evil. Paterno chose not to act. All of them did. And they didn’t do it because they were ignorant and powerless. They did it because they feared bad publicity for their beloved football program, their own reputations and their careers. They were rank cowards and, it very well appears, criminals in their own right.
How James, a man who can see so much that others cannot see, can fail to see this is beyond me. One need not muster some sort of moral outrage or make the worst assumptions about anyone to see what is plain with respect to Paterno and Sandusky and all that happened and didn’t happen at Penn State. One must merely look at the emails exchanged between the men who committed the coverup. To see what they cared about and what they didn’t care about, what they did and what they didn’t do, and what those acts and omissions allowed to happen.
It was the media’s fault? Please. That’s a pathetic canard when it’s deployed in normal circumstances. To cite that here when there are so many obvious people worthy of blame — real, damnable blame — is perverse in the extreme.
Of course, what James considers acceptable in all of this is eluding me anyway:
At the 14:10 mark Gottlieb asks James, “have you ever showered with a boy? Do you know anybody who has showered with a boy?” James says “Yes, that was actually quite common in the town I grew up in. That was quite common in America 40 years ago.”
Again. No words. This time I mean it.
UPDATE: One clarification here. That last bit comes off slightly cheap on my part. I don’t mean the curt response to be the equivalent of “gosh, look at that weirdo who thinks it’s cool for men to shower with boys.” And I would prefer that the comments here don’t trend in that direction, because I don’t think it’s what James meant. And I don’t think Bill is saying that as a means of defending Sandusky’s actions or even Paterno’s coverup. I think, though, that the answer is a tell that Bill doesn’t exactly understand what he’s commenting on, and that it remains significant for that reason.
That comment about men and boys 40 years ago came in response to a direct question. James, as is his wont, answered it directly. He didn’t provide any expanded context — Does he mean causally? Does he mean coaches and players? Fathers and sons? Innocently, as a means of water conservation? — but he answered it. I think he’s the type who will answer any direct question you put to him directly, no matter how uncomfortable it makes the questioner. Maybe the more uncomfortable it makes him the better.
But again, I think this was a situation in which James is completely missing the forest for the trees and being a bit too cute in his answer. He had to know when he’s being asked that question that the host was referring to showering with boys in a sinister, untoward manner. When we speak of showering with boys and the Penn State scandal, we obviously cannot forget what we know. More to the point, what Paterno clearly knew as of 2002. That’s what James was being asked about and I think he decided to simply answer the question as if he was talking to a historian about the strange folkways of 1950s Kansas rather than a child rape scandal.
That’s really my criticism of James here. I don’t think he supports Sandusky at all or even Paterno to any serious degree as much as he finds it intellectually interesting to defend him. But I think his focusing on a couple of legalistic points misses the entire real point of the story, and the shower question is a microcosm of that.