TW: Discussions of child sex abuse.
Though this column is, on the surface, a column about the NFL, I wanted to give myself room to discuss other issues around the sports world. This week it’s an issue in the world of college football. Specifically, Penn State’s decision to honor former head coach Joe Paterno this weekend.
Paterno coached Penn State’s football team from 1966 to 2011. In 2011, news broke that Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant coach, had spent decades sexually abusing underraged boys. At the time, a lot of people around the country said man, I hope Joe can handle the stress of finding out his longtime friend was doing this. Then news broke that Paterno had been told in 2002 about an incident in which someone witnessed Sandusky assaulting a boy in the Penn State locker room and Penn State fans tried to find ways to justify Paterno’s inaction, saying things like maybe he didn’t know exactly what he was being told or he’s old, he was protecting a friend, he didn’t believe it. Paterno was fired and Penn State fans staged large protests on campus in support of Paterno.
Paterno died of cancer in 2012. Later, investigators revealed Paterno knew of Sandusky’s actions as early as 1998. Then, according to some court documents, as early as 1976.
1976. 1976. If numbers could be written in CAPS LOCK, those would be. 1976. Joe Paterno knew that an assistant coach was a child rapist in 1976. That man worked for Penn State until 1999. That man was allowed to continue using the Penn State facilities after his retirement. He continued to rape underraged boys in those facilities. Clearly, there are some major, major failures on the part of Joe Paterno.
But 2012 was four years ago. It’s time to forgive Paterno for his failings and celebrate his accomplishments as a head coach, which is exactly what Penn State did against Temple this week, showing video tributes to the academic success of Paterno’s teams and celebrating his coaching abilities and UGH. Read this Deadspin article, which talks a little more about all the bad things fans did.
So. Yeah. When’s the right time to forgive a man who willingly employed a known child sexual abuser? Obviously four years isn’t enough, but what is?
Uhh, never? We should never ignore Paterno’s failings. For any reason.
There’s always a thin line between appreciating something and critiquing something. Think about musical artists who commit rape or murder. People try to be critical of them as people while still being all this song is my jam still YOU CAN”T TAKE AWAY THE ART.
Think of the poetry world, of poets who are accused of violence against intimate partners, of rape—and think about how people so quickly rush to their defenses, who say their art has this intrinsic value no matter what terrible things they did, that even if the art itself represents that intimate violence it’s fine because it’s Good Art and we can still read their books because DAMN IT THEY ARE GOOD BOOKS.
Think of sports as its own kind of art. Think of Paterno as the artist who led Penn State for years and helped them win a lot of football. Think of all the Penn State fans trying and failing to properly define who the man is.
Now think of it all in a different way: Paterno isn’t a complex figure. He aided and enabled rape. That musicians or poet isn’t a complex figure either: they did shitty things that took away agency from other people. They are not complex. They are the terrible things that they have done.
Let’s stop trying to balance the bad things and the other things. Let’s stop reading books by rapists and listening to music by domestic abusers. Art—and sports—are not more important than human beings. Sometimes someone does something so bad that nothing else they have ever done matters. Let’s remember that.
Joe Paterno’s real legacy is Jerry Sandusky. It isn’t football.
WEEK TWO IN REVIEW
Here are my thoughts on this week in the NFL:
- Kim Southwick beat me in fantasy football. She did this because I benched Oakland RB Latavious Murray at the last second for Chicago RB Jeremy Langford. This was a decision I felt really good about. My wife told me it was a bad decision. She was right.
- Lots of players were injured this week. Injuries in the NFL are especially concerning because so many players don’t have guaranteed contracts, so they might end up losing lots of income due to these injuries. In the NBA, this doesn’t really happen because the majority of contracts are guaranteed. In baseball—IDK, I gave up on baseball, but I’m pretty sure everyone gets paid what their contract says. Not so in football.
- Stefon Diggs, the Vikings top receiver, looks really, really good. He also looks like the entire team.
- Cleveland, as always, not so much.
- My Texans beat my wife’s Chiefs, so #braggingrights
- Also the two of us will play this upcoming week in our fantasy league, so #morebraggingrightsmaybe
- New England’s Tom Brady is suspended, so someone with no NFL experience was their QB for the first two weeks. He got hurt. Now someone else will be their QB. The Patriots are really good at being all uhhhhh, you there, play football now and that random person being fairly capable of doing so.
- What else? I watched all the games I possibly could week one, so this week I only watched my team’s game and parts of a few others. I needed a break. Football is overwhelming, more and more each week. I don’t know how much longer I can keep devoting this much time to it.
- I started watching American Crime Story: The People vs O.J. Simpson. There’s a lot to talk about there. I’ll do so when I finish the first season, but a quick preview: Cuba Gooding Jr. is playing O.J. like O.J. suffers from CTE, a degenerative brain issue many former NFL players have due to the amount of head injuries they’ve sustained. This is problematic—assigning CTE to a living person seems to be a way of almost excusing the inexcusable—but also an interesting look at the toll professional sports can take on a person.