Unhappy Valley

On its Opinion page, the New York Times posted a snippet from the new documentary film, Happy Valley. Standing next to the statue of Joe Paterno, a former PSU math professor displays a small sign accusing Paterno of lying, covering up and enabling a pedophile. That annoys some much bigger JoePa fans who physically intimidate him.

There were almost two hundred comments, which I read through. Many of them condemned Paterno and the football culture at PSU. Others defended Paterno and condemned the Freeh report. One person linked to a Sports Illustrated piece that accuses Freeh of working in concert with the NCAA instead of being independent. I decided to add a comment, but it never appeared. I’ve added comments before, and they did appear, so it may be that the editors simply didn’t like my comments. So I’ll post what I remember of them here.

I attended CMU, in Pittsburgh, but when I moved to Central Pennsylvania, I encountered a lot of people who either worked at, or had studied at PSU. When I met my ex-wife, she was teaching at a satellite campus. She was later forced out by a jealous superior with tenure. My stepkids’ late grandfather – a really good guy – had served on State College committees with Paterno, considered him a close friend and raved about what a great man he was. Many of my coworkers, choirmates and theater friends had connections to PSU.

In time, my work brought me into contact with the 500 lb gorilla that is Penn State in Central PA. I worked on some projects in State College, which were reviewed by both PSU and city officials. Meanwhile it seemed to me that Paterno was trying to arrange that his son would inherit the head coaching position.

Several of my current in-laws attended PSU. A lot of them refuse to believe anything bad about their JoePa. My wife believes that Corbett lost the governor’s race – partially – because of the way he handled the PSU scandal.

I think it is too simplistic to blame this scandal heavily on Paterno, or on football culture. Paterno was not the hero we were looking for, and American football is almost literally brain-dead, but like all state schools, PSU was clearly a very large, byzantine bureaucracy. All the usual rules for surviving and prospering in such places have been deftly parodied and skewered in the Dilbert comics, and one could probably populate a Dilbert strip or a Game of Thrones episode with the characters in this scandal.

Sandusky was clearly able to exploit the culture of power as ably as he groomed his victims and their parents. From today’s news, a lot of frat boys seem to count on being protected by risk-averse administrators after raping freshmen women. Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby and many others counted on the assumption that no one who wants to keep their job in the entertainment business sees anything or says anything.

What does it say when you can as safely operate as a sexual predator on campus as in Hollywood?

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