My New Book!

My New Book!
My New Book!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

November 12-13, 2011: There Are No Words

As I’ve been finishing up the week’s post-conference blogs and the Veteran’s Day one, I’ve simultaneously been struggling quite a bit with the question of whether, and if so what, I should write about the Penn State, the Sandusky, the Paterno, no let’s call it what it is the child rape scandal that’s been exploding over these same days. Despite my increasing willingness in this space to respond to current events (at least compared to the first few months, when I didn’t really do so at all), and despite the many significant AmericanStudies issues to which this scandal undoubtedly connects—none more frustrating to an academic AmericanStudier than the power that college football holds over our national and educational narratives; but certainly also issues related to power and privilege that are not at all outside of the Occupy Wall Street conversation; and many more besides—I have to admit that I have consistently found myself in the same place I do at this moment: without words to do justice to the scandal’s truly horrific and terrible core.
What I’ve instead mostly been doing in response to the scandal is, I’m sure, what many American parents and teachers and coaches and social workers, and uncles and aunts and grandparents and godparents, have been doing over these days—thinking about my boys, the oldest of whom is only a few years younger than some of Sandusky’s victims. I understand that for someone as obviously disturbed as Sandusky young boys represented something entirely different from what they would for any of those other constituencies—but what I remain unable to fathom is how any of the other people involved, all of whom of course knew young boys of their own and many I’m sure have had young sons, managed not to think of the victims in direct relationship to the boys in their own lives. I’ve argued multiple times in this space for how much would change if we could think about multiple issues through the lens of children—the children of illegal immigrants; children in Afghanistan—and had never thought that I might have to make the same case when it comes to the issue of whether to report a serial abuser and rapist of children. Again, I don’t quite have words for the disconnect there.
Ironically, my other most frustrated focus over the last couple days has indeed found words of his own: sportswriter Joe Posnanski, a favorite contemporary writer of mine, about whom I’ve written very enthusiastically in this space. Posnanski is currently living at Penn State, working on a biography of Paterno, and a result has posted a couple of blog entries (one on his main blog, on his Sports Illustrated blog) in response to the scandal. Despite framing both posts through the idea that he doesn’t want to write much of anything yet, he has in fact written quite a bit, and much of it, again, has been deeply frustrating to me; both because he seems determined to defend Paterno quite vociferously (and apparently did so even more passionately while speaking to a class on Joe Paterno at Penn State) and because he has bemoaned the state of his own book project. The latter factor is definitely the strongest source of frustration for me: I suppose it’s understandable that Posnanski is thinking about his book at a time like this, but what I cannot understand, what I once again have no adequate words to register my disgust with, is the idea that he thinks the state of his book is a worthy topic for a public response to the unfolding scandal.
That’s all I’ve got on this. More next week,
PS. What do you think?


  1. From Terry Eagleton,

    "In our own time, one of the most popular, influential branches of the culture industry is unquestionably sport. If you were to ask what provides some meaning in life nowadays for a great many people, especially men, you could do worse than reply 'Football'. Not many of them, perhaps, would be willing to admit as much; but sport...stands in for all those noble causes - religious faith, national sovereignty, personal honour, ethnic identity - for which, over the centuries, people have been prepared to go to their deaths. Sport involves tribal loyalties, iconic heroes, epic battles, aesthetic beauty, physical fulfilment, intellectual satisfaction, sublime spectaculars, and a profound sense of belonging. It also provides the human solidarity and physical immediacy which television does not. Without these values, a good many lives would no doubt be pretty empty. It is sport, not religion, which is now the opium of the people."

  2. Ben,

    As I've indicated elsewhere, I think this is a story largely about the effects of money -- really big money -- in university athletics. Taylor Branch's recent article in the Atlantic ( reveals the depths of the problem. As he explains it, the vast sums of money have perverted the mission of higher education, and the Penn State case demonstrates this most clearly: an institution dedicated to the education of young men and women became a for-profit business (even a corporate brand) that incidentally did some teaching on the side. Students came to this school for football. They lived for football, and they even rioted when their Patron Saint (JoePa, the paterfamilias) was implicated in the scandal. The program was so revered that a graduate assistant allegedly *walked away* from a crime in progress, failed to report it to the authorities, and then managed to keep his job, but only because those higher up the chain of command allegedly conspired to conceal the crime. Now why would an otherwise seemingly decent man (McQueary) fail to stop and/or report a crime? My answer: Because there was just too much at stake. Namely, his future in the business of university athletics, and as we know head coaches have made this all-but-pro-ball a lucrative enterprise. Their salaries far surpass those of university presidents and in many instances rival corporate CEOs. In short, these events are not inexplicable (as one Atlantic editor stupidly put it: They were all but inevitable in an environment so perverted by the almighty dollar.