Let us be quite clear — Tim Tebow adheres to a particular form of American Protestantism. He belongs to — and proselytizes for — a splinter of a splinter, no more or less than Mitt Romney once did. This particular splinter has a long record in America of fostering anti-Enlightenment thought, retrograde social policies, and, more discreetly, religious bigotry. To call Tim Tebow a "Christian," and to leave it at that — as though there were one definition of what a "Christian" is — is to say nothing and everything at once. Roman Catholics are Christians. So are Lutherans, Episcopalians, Melkites, Maronites, and members of the Greek and Russian Orthodox faiths.
And it gets better:
It so happens that 95 percent of the population of the Philippines is Roman Catholic. Catholic doctrine just happens to be in conflict with what Bob Tebow and his son preach in regard to personal salvation. (To devout Catholics, for example, sins are not forgiven "by faith alone," but through the sacrament of reconciliation as administered by a priest.) Bob Tebow's goal is not to convert unbelievers. It is to supplant an existing form of Christianity. So who's the actual Christian here? This is not an idle point to be made.
Charles P. Pierce may well have written the definitive word on Penn State, the Roman Catholic Church, and how blind, unthinking obedience and hypocrisy have created a world where men can walk in to a locker room shower and see another man raping a child and then walk away, only to have an entire football stadium pray for healing for the program. Read it.
I kind of want to quote the entire thing here, but there's one particular paragraph that stands out:
There will now be a decade or more of criminal trials, and perhaps a quarter-century or more of civil actions, as a result of what went on at Penn State. These things cannot be prayed away. Let us hear nothing about "closure" or about "moving on." And God help us, let us not hear a single mumbling word about how football can help the university "heal." (Lord, let the Alamo Bowl be an instrument of your peace.) This wound should be left open and gaping and raw until the very last of the children that Jerry Sandusky is accused of raping somehow gets whatever modicum of peace and retribution can possibly be granted to him. This wound should be left open and gaping and raw in the bright sunlight where everybody can see it, for years and years and years, until the raped children themselves decide that justice has been done. When they're done healing — if they're ever done healing — then they and their families can give Penn State permission to start.
Quite. Fucking. True.
While I don't think Penn State needs to be flattened and I don't think that they need to be forced to change the university's name to Child Rapist Protectors University, I do think that anyone who thinks that Penn State's need to "heal" is of paramount -- or even any, for that matter -- importance needs to STFU. Football caused this. The culture of football -- put in place by the sainted Joe Paterno -- protected a sexual predator. Students rioted in the streets because they thought Joe Paterno's legacy was more important than the safety of children and an organizational accountability and conveniently ignored that Joe Paterno himself used his influence and power to make sure there was no organizational accountability, all while talking about "Winning with Honor."
There is not honor in child rape. Every single win Penn State has in the books needs to have an asterisk next to it that says, "*Win enabled by child rapists and child rape apologists." Every prep athlete that's thinking of going to Penn state to play football from this point forward needs to be forced to think, "Do I really want to be associated with child rapists and their apologists?"
And if that legacy destroys football at Penn State, so be it. It's not a tragedy in comparison to the tragedy that the football program itself allowed to happen in its own facilities.
So I didn't get to any of the writing that I intended this week. It just ended up being one of those weeks, I guess.
I did, however, follow the events in State College, PA as closely as I could. It's hard not to, when you consider that my first inkling of the issue came from this write up. If you go to read it, be warned, it's graphic and extremely disturbing.
Yesterday, Scalzi weighed in with a comparison to Omelas. He described why, and I initially disagreed with him. The Omelas story centers around the idea that this one small but atrocious evil must exist for a greater good. There seems no comparison between the utopian omelas with its inconceivable devil's bargain and a winning football program. Football is, after all, just a game. And even Joe Pa shouldn't be above common human decency. And a mere assistant coach shouldn't be a necessary component of that pseudo-utopia.
Then I read a pairof articles by Michael Weinreb on Grantland. Weintraub grew up in Happy Valley, living and breathing Penn State football. If you read nothing else on this horrible scandal, read those two pieces in the order I linked them. Because this is about something more than football. And in understanding that, I began to grasp the sheer scope of what happened.
The story of the reaction to Joe Pa getting fired is, ironically enough, the story of a loss of innocence. State College is Omelas in a very real way. State College, PA is what it is because of the football program put in place by Joe Paterno. Sandusky was an important part of that winning football program. In a very real sense the cover-up is an attempt to sacrifice the small, weak, and helpless to protect the rest of the community from the real world.
In rioting, complaining, and saying that the real victim was actually Joe Paterno, the people who's reaction is so shocking in its callous disregard for the fact that at least eight [pre]-adolescent boys* were sexually abused -- up to outright rape in the Penn State football facilities -- isn't so much about, "How dare you fire Joe Pa?" but, "How dare you take away our innocence?"
It's an expression of inarticulate, ironic rage, not against the perpetrator of a horrible crime or the system that completely disregarded the protection of the least among us in the face of predation by a supposed hero. They want to maintain their innocence about the benevolence and goodness of the powerful in their world at the expense of innocence of a few young, mostly helpless boys. It is an understandable reaction if you know anything about humanity and its default state of short-sighted selfishness.
What I can't decide, though, is if this makes the rioters more sympathetic or monsters on an even greater scale?
I'm leaning towards the latter, though. One is supposed to go to college to learn to be an adult, after all. Maybe Joe Pa was taken on as a surrogate father-figure, but part of growing up is in learning that your parents are not perfect and infallible and make mistakes. To try to say that it's not Paterno's fault and he was unjustly fired because he couldn't possibly have been involved, or it's not his fault because he did his minimum legal duty is wrong. Absolutely wrong.
Joe Paterno knew what was happening. It was reported to him. And he did his minimum required duty, which is another way of saying he did nothing. Had Joe Paterno picked up the phone and called the campus police or State College, PA police, someone would have said, "Holy shit, Joe Paterno is on the phone. We need to get on this." Hell, if Joe Paterno had called the goddamn Pennsylvania National Guard he could have gotten a response. For him not to do so is inexcusable.
With great power comes great responsibilty. Joe Paterno was a father to the Penn State football program, to Penn State, to State College, and to generations of alumni. But he wasn't a father to at least eight weak, helpless boys.
Joe Paterno failed. The irony is that I'm sure it was a failure based on some notion of not damaging the integrity of the football program and Penn State as a whole.
As it turns out, "Huge cover-up of sexual abuse of [pre]-adolescent boys,* Joe Paterno fired," is a much bigger story than, "Assistant coach arrested for sexually assaulting boys after getting turned in by Joe Paterno." In one Joe Paterno looks like a paragon of virtue, in the other a craven coward. In one the football program takes a hit, in the other the football program crumbles.
And that's the most bizarre, strange, and heartbreaking thing about this story. There is exactly one response that is morally, legally, and logically correct. No one took that path. Instead, they chose the path of craven cowards, choosing to support Omelas in spite of the fact that the suffering of children did not actually bring about any sort of utopia. All it did was create unnecessary pain.
Even at that, some cannot walk away.
Weinreb articulates why that is: "I want these things to disappear from my consciousness, but they won't. The place where I grew up is gone, and it's not coming back."
The difference between Weinreb and those who rioted or those who say the real victim in all of this is Joe Paterno and Joe Paterno's legacy is that Weinreb knows that the truth doesn't disappear if you just blame everything on the victims.
*EDIT: The original version of this said they were "adolescent." I forgot which age group fits where, but the boys were all in the range of 10 years old and "adoelescent" is post-puberty.
So...here's a fascinating potential sub-plot of the NBA playoffs this season:
The Bulls are the Number 1 seed in the East and look like the favorite to make the Finals. the Lakers are the defending champs and look like they have a very good shot to make the Finals. Should this happen it means two things are in play:
1. Phil Jackson, coach of the Lakers, is going for his second three-peat with the Lakers. He had two three-peats with a previous team: the Chicago Bulls.
2. Kobe Bryant is going for his second three-peat, which would put him in the same place, championship-wise, as the man whose legacy he has been chasing his entire career: Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls.
So the upstart Bulls, behind Derrick Rose, a.k.a. "The Best Thing to Happen to Chicago Basketball Since Michael Jordan" may find themselves defending the team's legacy against the current defending champions in a couple weeks. That would be kind of awesome.