As Penn State fans, our hope has been that the initial media feeding frenzy over this Sandusky scandal would lessen this week. After seeing the emotions of Saturday, a small amount of sympathy crept out towards us, the suffering Penn State community. But the tide has come back in. Maybe this college football weekend will finally be the one where PSU moves to page 2. Lord knows we won’t be on page 1 with any positive reporting, so all we can hope for is the negative attacks to fade.
Below I’m going to post my thoughts on the media’s role in targeting the wrong people with the blame in the Sandusky scandal. I’ve found three articles though, far better than mine, that have helped me process through my complex emotions over this tragedy. You’ll see some of my African perspective shine through, realizing that this trauma has reached a worldwide scale.
In some places in Africa, if you are in an automobile accident with a pedestrian, custom dictates that you not stop, but drive on to the nearest police station. Stopping often invites a mob to attack the driver, whether the accident was the fault of the driver or not. You should gather police protection and assistance above all else.
The culture behind this type of behavior has trigger points that are incited by an accident. First off, a driver usually has more money than the pedestrian. Secondly, since money often equates power, the driver holds more status than the pedestrian. In the heat of a moment, these cultural factors collide, and justified revenge is sought by the bystanders.
Imagine. You’re driving down the road and an innocent child runs in front of your vehicle. You stop, out of sympathy for the injured party. Suddenly, a group of individuals turns on you with fists and sticks, beating and robbing and leaving you at the accident scene. The police arrive to survey the scene and find not one victim, but two.
This is not a perfect analogy to what has happened at Penn State these past few weeks, by any means. But it shares sad similarities.
American culture has a trigger point—the protection of our children. This hasn’t always been so, as the status of children has risen over the last hundred years or so. But today—abuse of children and especially sexual abuse—is a hot-button topic like no other. I’m not against protecting kids. Far from it. Awareness and education about sexual abuse are essential, and as a father of three, I particularly laud every and any effort to keep children safe.
Every human heart ached these past weeks as the details of the allegations were repeated again and again, with different nuances and subtleties in each retelling. And those with the loudest voices—the journalists with keyboards, microphones, and cameras reaching out to the masses—ached too. In fact, they ached so much that their voices went far beyond what their professional positions warranted. The audience—if they had any choice at all—allowed such commentary and bias because, well, truth be told, most of us felt the same way.
Disgusted. Appalled. Embarrassed. Furious. Indignant. These were universal emotions.
Unfortunately, the media with the loudest voices in this case weren’t exactly equipped to be unbiased reporters of fact. Most of the journalists have never covered cases of sexual abuse, let alone the highly complex ones involving minors and a serial offender. Yes, ESPN and Sports Illustrated employ professionals, but they are professional sports journalists, not legal journalists. The majority of the reporting that has been done so far has been A) repetition of the allegations against Jerry Sandusky and B) opinion about how much Joe Paterno knew and/or should have done. Point A is true journalism, but it gets old. Point B sells magazines and TV shows. Opinions are limitless.
Despite the fact that the Grand Jury statement exonerated Paterno (and Mike McQueary, for that matter) and numerous legal experts have doubted any further charges against him, the anger over the horrific abuse by Sandusky spilled over to Spanier and Paterno. The four of the most powerful men at Penn State University are gone; McQueary will probably also be fired.
I see why all these powerful men needed to be let go, although I think the very sports journalists who are destroying Paterno’s legacy (beyond the damage for which eSandusky and even Paterno himself are culpable) will someday soon regret their rash actions. These hasty and emotional moves seem to be all but demanded in today’s society.
My question for an illogical society is, “Where will it stop?”
If the emotional media is allowed to enlarge the vision of the emotional public to the rest of the football staff, will they be next to go? What about the team itself? Should they be punished because of Sandusky’s heinous crimes and the administration’s negligence?
What about students at Penn State? They chose to attend a school where such atrocities have occurred. What about the alumni? What about fans of the school? Are they all hypocrites and enablers, all phonies and false followers in the “Penn State way”?
This sounds preposterous, but you will hear these questions—nay, these accusations—uttered worldwide today. What will abate the anger of an outraged world?
America has a saying “innocent until proven guilty,” But this week felt a lot more like Africa, where emotions and mob mentality can supersede justice and fairness.
Sins were committed, but this doesn’t seem like the way America is supposed to deal with justice. Maybe it’s easier to just drive on by if America has become a culture of mob rule.