Today’s Courier Herald Column
Scandals are peculiar events. They usually begin with a certain shock value, and then will often continue so long as there remains a prurient or titillating interest for the event and response to remain in the public eye. They are not pleasant for the subject of the scandal, nor most who know them. Others, tangential players and innocent bystanders, are often drawn into the public eye unexpectedly from their previously private lives.
The frequency of scandal combined with a 24 hour news cycle has desensitized many to the elements of the personal tragedies, and the reactions for many are now counterintuitive. Supporters now rush to defend the scandalized, and a victimhood mentality, timely deployed, can at least temporarily inoculate the one at the center of the scandal.
Herman Cain has been living several weeks of the perfectly modern scandal cycle. The story seems all too familiar, yet the players and their unique reactions make each predictable event seem fresh. Charges are made, denials are issued, facts are presented that cast doubt on all sides, and a feeding frenzy ensues. After a week or so, the underlying charges seem to fade from importance. It’s no longer about victims in the workplace or the falsely accused. The story has become the story itself.
Lost in this scandal is the underlying subject matter. There are victims in the case of sexual harassment. They are the ones who are just trying to earn a living and having that compromised by those who would abuse position for their personal gratification. There are also victims of those who file false charges. They are the ones when the cameras go away who are not given directions on where to go to get their reputation back. In a feeding frenzy, none of that matters. The innocent and the guilty are mostly lost to the event.
More striking is the case of Penn State University, and the firing of their President and the winningest coach in all of college football, Joe Paterno. It appears that Paterno and many others at the University knew that a former coach, Jerry Sandusky, had been molesting young boys in the athletic facilities on campus. A Graduate Assistant had witnessed one act, and reported it directly to Paterno. Paterno reported it up the school’s administrative food chain, but otherwise did nothing, while Sandusky continued his all access privileges to the school.
Outrage simmered throughout the week as facts continued to be revealed. Paterno announced his retirement at season’s end on Wednesday afternoon, attempting to ease his way out and possibly preempt his firing. It was unsuccessful. Paterno and President Graham Spanier were fired Wednesday evening. Given the innocence and childhood that were stolen from boys that could have been helped or saved from abuse had they acted promptly and actively, firings seemed like a good first start to most outside observers.
Yet to supporters of JoePa, he too is yet another victim in the age of the scandal. Students gathered in protest, with some turning violent. A news truck was turned over, with tensions remaining tight into the evening. The pictures coming out of Penn State weren’t about college students outraged that boys – some whom are now likely their peers and possibly even classmates – were raped by a man their school had employed, whose parents had trusted into their school’s care. No. They just wanted Paterno to continue his win streak. A winning record seemed more important than the lost victims at Penn State Wednesday night. It was a sad day for Penn State, for sports, and for humanity.
Regardless of the circumstance, the ability to keep perspective when winning is an option continues to cloud everyday lives. There is a fine line between supporting someone being attacked unfairly and turning a blind eye to transgressions of someone you are closely aligned with and respect. Cain’s supporters can still make the case they are on the proper side of that line. Paterno’s supporters should quickly check their priorities.