Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Playing Fields of Penn State University

Mark Steyn has a good (as always) piece up about the disastrous child-rape scandal in the football programme at Penn State University. How telling that this scandal erupted in the university's sports programme, and not just in any sport, but the football programme.

I know one of the arguments for sports is the health one, but few people who love sports are thrilling to the sight of calories being burned on the field, or muscle resistance being built. That's the utilitarian facade erected to satisfy the philistines (and the one resorted to to force people like me, lazy dreamers who hate participating in sports, into smelly gyms and onto cold fields 3 times a week in school). People who LOVE a sport love it for its beauty, and the human skills and strengths required to do it well.

Wellington never really said "The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton", but it makes a sort of sense - you can see why the saying caught on. Sports are small-scale yet magnified enactments of human endeavour, and when they're done well they involve much more than pure muscle development. A football game employs physical strength, but combined with farsighted planning, canny strategy, wily deception - it's a whole little battlefield, scaled down to manageable size.

In short, sports showcase what have traditionally been called "the manly virtues" - courage, daring, innovation, loyalty, camaraderie, and more. This is why sport has always been praised as "character-building". How pathetic to find in a crisis that the development has all been on the outside for some of these sports leaders. Where is the "character" that should come from all these years of "building"?

Steyn rightly scorns the 28-year old assistant who witnessed a little boy being raped and then ran away. The apologists have gone the usual route of exculpating the responsible adults by mewing about typical reactions to severe shock, how "nobody can know what they'd do in such a situation". Steyn quote Kathy Shaidle who correctly squashes this pre-emptive surrender by saying "When we say 'we don't know what we'd do under the same circumstances,' we make cowardice the default position."

How acceptable would the "I was so surprised I just froze" or "I couldn't think of what to do so I just ran away" argument be if a football game were in progress? Part of the game is to try to outwit the opposition and ruin their plans. If a player has been prepared to do a certain play and the opposing team suddenly does something unexpected, what is the player required to do? He's supposed to have some backup plan to immediately switch to in reaction. He can't just stand there open-mouthed and refuse to act. You have to do SOMETHING, to TRY to rescue the situation.
You can't just give up and then snap at critics, "Yeah, well, I'd like to see YOU play the hero without warning!" Life is all without warning.

I was disappointed that one of my favourite newspaper columnists, David Warren, took a rather lackadaisacal approach to this matter when he wrote about it last week. One argument (or lack of argument) that sets my teeth on edge is the laid-back "Oh, this is nothing new. It's ALWAYS been like this" approach to evil. It smells of that pre-emptive "making cowardice the default" mentioned above. What's the point of doing anything? Nothing will change, so why even try? His argument is that people responsible for institutions might see that more harm than good can come of taking swift and thorough action. Theoretically, I can see that that's true, but practically it seems to be that the opposite is true: however much harm might have been done by calling in the police and having Sandusky arrested, could it really have been MORE than leaving sleeping dogs lie, and having the scandal erupt more than 10 years later? Who really benefitted from the delay except Sandusky? He had 10 more years of child-hunting to enjoy. Everyone else is getting now, and much worse, what they could have weathered more easily back when the crime occurred.


Blogger Priscilla said...

That is always the reaction and the rationalizing of cowards who can't take responsibility for their own actions. Just look at BHO - all he and his minions practicly coined the phrase "it's all Bush's fault ©", right?

10:05 am  
Blogger Charlie Sutton said...

I would like to agree with you, but there are some things that need to be taken into account in this situation. One is that pedophiles are usually extraordinarily charming people, who cultivate their victims carefully, along with their families, and who project a public persona of kindness, generosity, and goodness. That is the vision of a pedophile those around him will have, and to be suddenly confronted with despicable behavior is such a drastic change that the observer has a very difficult time believing what has been seen.

It is true that good athletes will improvise on the spot in a game. The major reason that they can do so, however, is that they have practiced assiduously all the elements of their sport, so that they can see possibilities that others would miss and take advantage of those possibilities. This reality is why athletes, firemen, police officers, soldiers, etc, train so much: so that they can go into a stressful and challenging situation and carry out a plan - or modify the plan if needed because the circumstances turn out to be different from what was expected.

Learning how to deal with stressful circumstances in a particular situation does help with dealing with other stressful situations. We all know of stories where a soldier kept his head in a civilian emergency and was able to help things out.

The assistant coach who observed Sandusky engaging in a sexual act in the shower with a boy was better prepared than most people would have been - but when one adds in the charm and glowing public persona of the typical pedophile, that advantage is markedly decreased. Pedophiles are masters at manipulation, and their skill can leave people floundering instead of acting promptly.

It is easy enough for any of us to say, "If I had been there, I would have broken it up and called the police immediately." The matter is clear enough in the abstract - but such events always happen in the particular, and none of us knows how we really would respond when seeing someone for whom we have a very high regard acting, it seems, so far out of character.

11:40 am  

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