Keidel: The Week Of The Weak

By Jason Keidel
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Suffice it to say we’ve never witnessed a week like this in sports history.

When we eulogized Joe Frazier, we realized he was taken from us way too soon, sadly, and suddenly. But eulogies can double as celebrations. As Randy Gordon told Joe & Evan, it was perhaps the first day in the legend’s life that the dialogue could be entirely about him, a singular tip of the cap to the champ without spending equal time on Ali. A shame Smokin’ Joe had to die to have his day, because he gave us so much and asked for so little. So while we were universally heartbroken, we may smile at his memory.

Then the week turned to the sick and surreal, with another icon dying, though in every metaphysical way. Joe Paterno and his acolytes took a strange, deranged oath to protect their bread-and-butter brand at the expense of safety and sanity.

When I wrote on Wednesday that this scandal had nothing to do with sports, that State College was merely the wallpaper behind an unrelated tragedy, I was wrong. If you’re a football junkie, your youth is a montage of pigskin memories, from the first time you tucked that huge ball in your short arms to watching games, finding a favorite team and dreaming you’d join them someday. So this new paradox is most penetrating.

Penn State’s exorcism has begun, removing the formerly paternal Paterno and his titular boss. But, frankly, the cuts are cosmetic, not to mention they replaced a Penn State lifer with another Penn State lifer (Tom Bradley), who, eerily, assumed Sandusky’s job in 1999. Since Sandusky’s crimes are so atrocious, we wanted a famous head to roll from the campus. We got it, but little has changed. This story, so hideous that every bottom has trap doors, has barely begun.

Each daily detail drips like a poison into the public’s soul. On some level, we understand that creatures like Sandusky exist, at least in the abstract, the way we know there’s evil in the world. And we know that his victims never had a chance to be children, and will spend a tragic amount of time in therapy, on medication, or both, because an evil man imposed himself on them, shredding an innocence that most of us so thoroughly recall and relive in ourselves everyday.

Paterno said he’s eager to address the media. Really? He harbored a serial child abuser and now wants to tell us all about it? When Paterno issued his missive about hindsight and then implicitly ordered the board of trustees to back off, he was defiant to the end. And there’s little to imply that he will find religion after he was fired.

And he can’t play the age angle, can’t flash his Medicare card in a geriatric round of “No hablo Ingles.” You can’t coach an 8-1, top-20 team, but be too old and obtuse to forget the details of your D-Coordinator. Paterno is the avatar of a grotesquely (if not criminally) odd Omerta, with all the trappings of a morally corrupt (if not criminal) conspiracy to protect a monster. He’s all lawyered-up now, bracing for the legal tidal wave roaring his way.

Some places doubled as palaces among the toxic realities of life, places like Duke basketball, the Brooklyn Dodgers, Notre Dame and Penn State football, cradles of character where, for a few hours, we could live vicariously through something or someone better than we are. Can we ever return to those fantasies?

This is the most daunting and haunting story I’ve ever seen, heard or covered in the context of sports. With wars we take sides based on cause, casualties, and home turf. Our foes are normally well defined.

In the case of Penn State vs. Humanity, however, there are none of the bona fides of battle. Yet a silent war was waged against our senses. Sandusky is a child rapist who ran free under the guise of goodness and the pristine proposition that mothers and fathers ship their sons to a foreign but friendly place where older men will care for them as though they were still under mom’s roof.

For many of us, this story clouds our sense of direction, even as adults. My compass has been shattered this week because all my associations with football are pure. Football is at once America’s game and shame. At least it was for a week.

Many of us don’t have that switch. It’s impossible to just forget the horror a few miles west and wax poetic and preview Jets-Patriots. It’s about those kids, how they were assaulted and who assaulted them. This doesn’t end with Paterno, a mummy already staggering out the door, getting whacked just a few games before his contract expires. That was perfunctory, a band-aid on a tumor, as the cliché goes. Death threats against Mike McQueary don’t help us. We don’t even know why he’s still there after admitting he witnessed the worst thing he (or any of us) will ever see, and, imbued with the power to stop it and report it to the police, did neither.

How do we go from the dark dungeon of Penn State to the bright lights of gameday? Are we wrong for trying? Maybe this weekend will take our minds back to basics, to the joy of football. Maybe. But maybe our thoughts wander westward; again, to the little lost souls buried in a campus that represented a haven for the very people it destroyed.

Feel free to email me:

  • Ellen

    I not only put blame on Paterno, but the university as well. They all knew what was going on and no one did anything about it. Reminds me of the Catholic Church sex scandal where the very same thing happen and all the Vatican was worried about was their own reputation. Same thing here.

  • Paul D.

    You look up the word “tenacious” in the dictionary, or on the internet, and his stern visage should be highlighted as the premier example. I rooted for him at eleven years old when he took on Ali for the second time in the “Thrilla.” Most of my friends were Ali fans. They thought he was a better athlete and quicker and smarter in the ring. I said maybe so. But I also told them that smokin’ Joe was not going to stop going after that pretty boy until he uglied him up somewhat. And that’s what he did. He was quiet and unassuming until he looked out across from his opponent, tapped his gloves and lowered his head into the fight… and just kept coming. He had what most in the business call the most lethal left hook in boxing. He was, like Ali, one of a kind whose like will never be seen again.

    • JK

      Both men, as fighters, died that day. Ferdie Pacheco left Ali after that. As Ali’s doctor, he saw the urine in his blood and the onset of dementia. And Ali fought another six years.

      At least Joe enjoyed his lucidity for another 30 years. Perhaps that is some form justice. Ali is the greatest heavyweight who ever lived, but his conduct toward Frazier was unconscionable.

  • JK

    McQuery either has something on Paterno or on the school. I can’t think of another purpose to keep him around.

  • SL

    I have always despised college sports, and now I despise it even more. I could never understand why some of these college coaches were made out to be Godlike figures by players, fans and the media? Way too much power is given to them, and this just proves how they could abuse this power. A small handful of people should never have so much control, and to have someone be in charge for as long as Paterno had been is not much different than having a dictator in charge of a nation for decades. The dictator himself may not be committing the atrocities that usually occur under a dictatorship, but in most cases it’s those around him that he has also given some power to. This is exactly what happened in Penn State I’m afraid.

    • JK

      I agree with your sentiment, SL, but I don’t think that kind of apparatus is limited to college football or college sports in general. We have the Church, Wall Street, big oil, etc. It is, as you mentioned, about power, not the vocation.

  • Jonas Altman-Kurosaki

    Way to be eloquent, Jason. This is great. I agree – there has not been a week like this in sports history, at least as far as any of us can recall, especially in terms of off-the-field happenings (don’t forget – Wilson Ramos was kidnapped this week too). But without a doubt, stealing the show from Smokin’ Joe is the PSU incident that likely will not go away for a very, very long time (or at least until they win a title. You know, whatever).

    I must say I feel that the Penn State administration should still be held more accountable for what happened. Paterno is a legend and a figurehead for the blame, but reports indicate that he informed the administration of Sandusky’s wrongdoings once he found out about it. Should he have called the cops? Without question. Should the administration have done something? Absolutely – and that something shouldn’t have been sweeping it under the rug. That’s when the situation went from just being atrociously criminal to also being criminally atrocious. Clearly, at PSU, there are morals, and then there is money – and football brings in the money. But last I checked, Paterno is the name everyone raises in the same vein as The Good Lord, and not Sandusky – so why there was such a sense of panic to cover things up instead of rectify them is beyond me, beyond you and beyond any sort of logical thinking. Keep in mind, this went straight to the top – the *president* of the university.

    What comes of this is yet to be seen, but I can guarantee you that if Penn State ends up winning a championship this year, you’ll only be hearing about their perseverance in the face of tragedy – and not the same tragedy that those boys suffered, which was undoubtedly a million times more severe and scarring.

    • JK

      Your final point is fantastic, Jonas. The kids will be forgotten with a Big Ten title. Disgusting. Paterno gets much heat because of all the standards he espoused during his 46 years as head coach. And the fact that he was aware of multiple transgressions makes him more morally culpable. Sandusky isn’t human, so we look to others for lucidity and logic. Paterno, who was aware in 1998 and 2002, is in a rather perilous legal position. Civil actions, I suppose, not criminal.

      When it comes to child rape, bare minimum just won’t do. He’s not the monster here, but he just had to make sure something happened, that his top lieutenant for two decades was contained. The scariest part is that our understanding of this atrocity is still superficial. We’re only going to discover more and more. This is so horrific, dude.

      • Jonas Altman-Kurosaki

        I agree 100% – already more families have come forward with their own allegations. We can only hope that this awful situation isn’t much worse than our surface understanding, and that media outlets don’t dilute the ever-loving something out of it for the sake of their own ratings… which, sadly, they have already begun to do.

        • JK

          The lone refreshing refrain in the current reportage is that we’ve abandoned the politically correct caveat of “alleged.” Everyone knows Sandusky did this and we don’t have to engage in legal subterfuge.

          In fact, it may end up being underreported. As you say, more families are coming forward. And this is not something you admit for publicity.

  • Kurt Spitzner

    Money has displaced morals in our present society!

  • JK

    This is delicious. The thousands of media outlets covering this are irresponsible, but you’re the beacon of responsibility. Good job, Anonymous.

  • Anonymous

    Can you let all the damn facts come out? The biggest shame is in our legal system who allows a child rapist to be free like you or me until his trial. Journalistic principles have disappeared in most who have covered this story.

    • JK

      Said the brave person who won’t reveal his identity. You’re quite the contradiction.

    • Sully

      What facts are being left out?
      Joe Paterno’s OWN GRAND JURY testimony says he was told that Sandusky raped a 10 year old in a shower on the Penn State campus

      He never called the police

      Exactly what other fact do you need to know?

      • JK

        Indeed, Sully. Perhaps Mr. Anonymous is sniping from the safety of his cubicle in Crappy Valley, swathed in his Blair Thomas Snuggie.

        • Robert Richardson

          Trying to remain “Anonymous” is the backdrop of this whole story. The cover-up, the complicity and the whitewash at the highest levels of a well renowned institution. One of the basic mores of our society is to protect the weak, the young, the old, the sick and the defenseless. Which makes this scandal more reprehensible. It will be a long time, if ever when I get this one out my mind. I have to say this out loud: Mike McQueary has no right to call himself a leader, a coach or a man! As a 28 year old G.A. he had the power to save a child rape victim and walked away, leaving that child to his fate. Yeah, he tried to remain “Anonymous” too! Sorry ass

          • JK

            You clearly don’t understand, Robert. We all have it wrong and Anonymous is the emblem of dignity and objectivity. Sandusky “allegedly” raped those kids. All the testimony, the 25-page grand jury report, Joe Paterno’s mea culpa, mean nothing. Anonymous obviously knows something they (and we) don’t.

            • Robert Richardson

              Once again JK well put !!

  • michaelfury
    • JK

      If I had the power to remove your continual, pathetic efforts to use my column to promote yours, fury, I would. Have you ever heard of hard work and honesty? Of course not.

      • Robert Richardson

        a desperate act of a desperate person. Speaking of desperate, I just read that McQueary won’t be present at the game tomorrow due to safety concerns, how ironic is that?

        • JK

          He’s just been put on administrative leave – with pay, of course. Jesus.

        • JK

          Ironic, indeed, Robert. Why is he still on the staff. A Penn State alum (who also has his two children attending the school) said the DA is keeping him there. I’m not sure I understand the logic, but I’m not there.

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