A NEW NARRATIVE: THE TRAGEDY OF PREMATURE CONCLUSIONS
Sometimes it is painfully difficult to hold onto something that in your soul you believe is true, particularly when that very belief has faced an onslaught by those parties and individuals who control the dialogue: Maybe that is what faith is all about. Penn State students, alumni, and fans who have followed the tragic situation at their university have had to sit tight and endure the anger, incrimination, and vitriol that were the manifestation of the Louis Freeh Report, a presentment that went without challenge or vetting: The fact is, that it was literally accepted in its entirety at face value. However, in recent months we have had the opportunity to experience new and revealing reports commissioned by the Paterno family. These presentments offered cogent, well constructed, comprehensive counterpoints and challenging findings by individuals with truly impressive credentials. Finally, we have the opportunity to experience the long overdue vetting and rebuttal to what some considered the questionable findings of the Louis Freeh Report. Yet for the most part, these new presentations have been ignored by the media or discredited for a host of what seem ill-considered reasons. It feels as if there is a dedicated unwillingness to countenance the possibility that the Freeh Report was flawed and overstated in its conclusions.
Let us not forget the response to the findings and pronouncements contained in the Louis Freeh Report. The popular hosts of television and radio talk shows, sports commentators, columnists, private citizens, fans, the Penn State Board of Trustees (BOT), and of course the NCAA all reacted almost instantly, ruthlessly castigating in particular the legendary coach Joe Paterno for allegedly being an accomplice in a disgraceful cabal to hide what happened at Penn State. In my opinion, Mr. Freeh presented his findings in a manner filled with hyperbole and overstatement, a theatrical, dramatic style clearly designed to "raise the ire" of the audience. Of course, the media picked up the "drum beat" and opined in a similar style, the airwaves and editorial pages filled with commentaries couched in indignation and outrage. To be incensed with Jerry Sandusky after the trial revealed his guilt is totally understandable and maybe even welcome. But regarding the "Penn State Four" (Spanier, Schultz, Curley and Paterno), it quickly became apparent that for far too many there was neither the time nor the desire to be patient until a more complete picture could emerge - a picture wherein other sources of factual evidence could be put on the table and considered before reaching conclusions regarding any alleged cover-up. And, regardless of the Paterno presentments, I fear that the particularly loathsome nature of sexual predation and victimization has permitted and justified in the minds of many a sweeping attack upon and sterilization of everything Penn State-related. A predator hurt young children; hysteria and the lack of due process damaged a great university and an iconic figure.
I believe it is incumbent upon us to at least wonder why so many individuals were willing to almost blindly accept one presentment and not at least wonder if there should not have been a public vetting of a document that was filled with such damning conclusions, particularly since the conclusions were based upon a suspect methodology of investigation. To me, that was unconscionable! It should not have been permitted to happen. Were those who based their opinions strictly on the Freeh Report not aware of his investigative record? It is both important and revealing to note the fact that Louis Freeh completed a report for FIFA, the governing body of the International Soccer Association, pertaining to corruption charges against Bin Hamman, a candidate for president. Upon review by the Court of Arbitration of Sport, many of the charges were dismissed as they found the investigative report by Freeh to be incomplete and lacking in the necessary comprehensiveness. Should that not at least be a flag that suggests proceeding with caution before taking his findings at Penn State as irrefutable, rock-solid truths? I would think so.
Apparently in what has been termed a "rush to injustice," there was neither tolerance nor time for another narrative to develop. Due process and in particular one of the most honored pillars of American jurisprudence, the notion of prosecution and defense, were cast to the wind. It seemed everyone knew who the guilty parties were - so let's not waste time: Might as well just throw the rope over the limb and have a good old-fashioned media lynching! It would have been helpful if someone had reminded those individuals who were so quick to convict and punish of that famous novel that so dramatically depicted the consequences of callous injustice ? The Ox-Bow Incident.
Unfortunately, like many media-generated stories, the Penn State saga has a "media life" wherein other more recent narratives and information no longer pique the interest of the media and general public; the once irresistible sensationalism of Paterno and Penn State has quickly lost consumer interest. In essence, the damage has been done and the thinking of many has been set almost irretrievably in concrete.
As a psychoanalyst, I believe that what we are currently experiencing (as evidenced by the recent Piers Morgan and Matt Lauer interviews) is technically what we call resistance. Particularly, individuals are often rigidly resistant to facing the reality of their actions and misperceptions. Simply - they would rather not know and remain attached to their false notions, delusions, and dysfunctional behavior. When these individuals are confronted, they often become agitated and highly defensive. A perfect example of this was the manner in which Piers Morgan attacked Ziegler and tried to dismiss his information as bogus and ridiculous.
Unfortunately, Ziegler's natural manner is not conducive to having a reasonable conversation with someone as defended as Morgan. Resistance must be tactfully addressed and removed before an individual can engage in a conversation that might raise their anxiety and promote a degree of self-examination. Few have the capacity of a Bob Costas to entertain the notion that he was premature in his opinions and consequently found the capacity and strength to revise his conclusions. For most of those who publicly denounced Paterno, they must either flee from or discredit the new revelations in order to save face and to sidestep the damage to a great university, its alumni, and a legendary iconic man, which in part they are responsible for. Sadly, it seems to be a characteristic of our still immature and often tabloid-minded society.
I am particularly confused by the actions of the NCAA regarding the draconic sanctions imposed upon Penn State. To me, they seem a little "psychotic;" that is, not in touch with the reality of what transpired at Penn State. And, it is important to understand that what happened at Penn State has likely happened at other universities and institutions across our country. This is a national problem, not just a Penn State problem.
In my opinion, the NCAA wandered far out of bounds from their designated role; that is, to monitor and assure the fairness of competition and safety of college athletics. And, it is important to keep in mind that the true scope of these sanctions or more to the point - punishments, intentionally or unintentionally, has caused substantial distress to the entirety of the Penn State: the reputation of a great university; the alumni of Penn State; the current student body; present and past football teams (wins vacated from 1998 through 2011); and of course the residents and businesses of central Pennsylvania that are reliant upon the revenues generated by football at Beaver Stadium. Of course, it is particularly frustrating, as the justifications for these sanctions have now been challenged with some well-considered opinions that are rather convincing in their dismissal of the assumptions and poorly substantiated conclusions contained in the Freeh Report.
Again, I believe that the NCAA is in the same situation regarding resistance. It would be rather anxiety provoking for them to change their position, as it might suggest that they were at least extreme in their actions regarding PSU, if not downright wrong. Attacking or confronting them simply will strengthen their resistance and resolve to keep the sanctions in effect. However, an empathic, non-confrontational strategy that helps reduce their resistance to considering the Paterno presentment might at least provide a stepping-stone to reducing or eliminating the sanctions.
When considering what happened at Penn State, we need to promote a rational perspective. Jim Clemente, a highly recognized expert on child sexual abuse and a former FBI profiler, clearly points out in his report that the failure on the part of individuals and institutions to quickly recognize the identity of sexual predators and the scope of their actions is both well documented and unfortunately all too common. Psychologists and sociologists have long elaborated upon how incredibly masterful predators are in covering up or obscuring the reality of their behavior with children - the so-called "grooming" process: familiarity with family members, a high level of regard within the community, and a revered image all work in the service of cleverly concealing that which is actually happening and can cause hesitation within the minds of those who might entertain suspicions. In his report, Jim Clemente uses the expression "nice guy acquaintance" victimizer in referring to the pattern and style of predation that Jerry had mastered. Under an elaborately constructed disguise as a pillar of the community, legendary defensive coach, and the force behind the Second Mile program, he was able to satisfy his sexual needs with children with no suspicios by anyone. In essence, he was a masterful and cunning "groomer;" but it was not strictly the children who were groomed for his needs. Over a long period of time, the entire Penn State University - State College community was successfully groomed to cover up his deeds and provide for his special needs. It is well within reason to at least consider that the situation at Penn State was one in which anyone who may have had some questions regarding Jerry Sandusky's behavior with children may unfortunately have cavalierly dismissed them as just "Jerry being Jerry." And of course, his development of and commitment to the Second Mile Program put him high in the regard of the entire State College community.
I believe that we need to communicate to our detractors and doubters how incredibly difficult it was to even contemplate, let alone believe, that someone who maintained such high esteem within the community - an individual who had been the source of accolades and admiration- could be guilty of abusing those very children he purported to assist and protect. And, in Jim Clemente's opinion, that is what happened at Penn State and that is why in fact there was no cabal - no sinister intent to cover-up of Sandusky's actions. It is just those thoughts - those very misperceptions regarding "acquaintance victimizers" that enable masterful predators like Jerry Sandusky in particular, to go without revelation until the tragedy that has befallen the victims is finally recognized and confronted. Finally, there now is a reasonable, plausible narrative presented by an acknowledged expert in the field of child sexual abuse and victimization that makes sense out of how things went down at Penn State in the late 1990's and early 2000's. I suggest that it is relatively impossible to use 2011 eyes to see and understand actions in 1998 or 2001. And that was Freeh's critical fault and the failing of his report; that is, the inability to grasp the true nature of what was happening at Penn State circa 1998-2001.
In my opinion, the Penn State Board of Trustees should have defended, not defiled Joe Paterno's reputation until due process, or at least further sworn testimony, showed that he was a knowing participant in any alleged cover-up. The dedication of his life's energy as well as much of his personal wealth to Penn State should at least have warranted that consideration. You do not permit a great university, its alumni, and an iconic figure to be trashed on a singular, unchallenged, and suspect piece of so-called evidence. Had the media and the board of trustees waited until the truth came forward, hysteria would have succumbed to the quieting light of due process and honest revelation and that is the way it should be!
For reasons that are rather apparent, the assault on the legacy of Joe Paterno reminded me of the infamous "Dreyfus Affair." In 1894, Alfred Dreyfus, a French army artillery officer, was tried and found guilty of treason by a court martial on the basis of false and misleading evidence - evidence that was contrived and corrupted in order to reach a predetermined desired outcome. It was later revealed that testimony on the treasonous actions of Dreyfus was perjured -filled with outrageous insinuations and assumptions. However, thanks in part to the relentless efforts of the fiery writer Emile Zola (J'accuse) and a few dedicated individuals, the truth was finally revealed and the conspiracy against Dreyfus was shown for what it really was - anti-Semitism and the corruption of due process by entrenched powers. After spending years banished to the infamous Devil's Island in French Guyana, he was found innocent and his rank restored. But the similarities are disturbing: When initially found guilty, Dreyfus was paraded in front of a jeering public, stripped of his rank and insignia medals, and his sword broken in half. In his disgraced and torn uniform, he was paraded through the crowd and spat upon. Think about it! Joe's statue being removed, his placards torn down, his record from 1998 through 2011 erased, and his legacy being dragged through the media to be spat upon and his name a source of disgrace. Again, are the parallels not compelling at least and frightening at worst? All this predicated on assumptions and "must have knowns." J'accuse the American media of a mass hysteria. J'accuse the media of creating a man of mythical proportions, only then to revel in destroying him.
It is rather ironic to note that the NCAA chastised Penn State for permitting the culture of football to dominate and corrupt the affairs of the university. What? Did I hear that correctly? Are they joking? Is the NCAA suffering from delusions? For decades, Penn State has been the absolute model for the student-athlete, with the annual graduation rates for football players consistently among the highest in the country - and often the highest. Particularly, the graduation rate for African-American athletes surpasses almost all other institutions. Penn State is noted for producing academic all-Americans at an unprecedented rate; yet; the NCAA warns them about the culture of football - a culture largely created by the NCAA itself, as it has negotiated massive financial contracts with the media for bowl games, play-offs, etc. J'accuse the NCAA of blatant hypocrisy - of pointing an accusatory finger at Penn State when that very finger should be pointed at themselves. And, J'accuse the Board of Trustees for cowering to bullies by not demanding due process to provide a more reasonable and factual understanding of what really transpired and illuminating any role that Paterno and others might have had in this tragedy. J'accuse the Board of Trustees of derogation of the responsibility of debunking the attacks regarding the "culture of football" at Penn State and demonstrating with facts what we have accomplished in the last forty years. J'accuse the Board of Trustees for not properly and openly vetting the Freeh report, before accepting it as fact and justification for their actions. In fact, I now must wonder if the Board of Trustees had an agenda regarding Joe - maybe even the rare opportunity for a few to act-out some bizarre vendetta regarding Joe Paterno. It surely begs the question: Was the Sandusky situation an ideal time to get some payback and destroy the legacy of Joe Paterno? Maybe not to others, but to me that is the only way I can understand the impulsivity of the board in firing Joe and their refusal to stand behind a man who had done so much for Penn State. There seems to be a play within a play within a play.
In closing, if due process should reveal culpability on the part of Joe Paterno and other members of the administration for the tragedy that occurred at Penn State, I will accept it and slowly, painfully work through it - always remembering that children were hurt. But until that is established, although cantankerous in nature and imperfect as a man, I will continue to embrace the notion of Joe Paterno as a brilliant and dedicated coach, teacher, and philanthropist at a great university. He was steadfastly committed to an idealized notion of what college athletics should be and never veered far from that vision. Unlike the falsified, aggrandized media image that made Joe Paterno a man for all seasons - the reality is that he was but a man made for the football season.
Joseph A. Cattano, Ph.D.,