I’ve long been a fan of Neyer’s, owning two of his books (well, only one now, my copy of “Baseball Dynasties” disintegrated a few years ago), but I haven’t kept up with much of his work since he left ESPN. Recently he wrote an interesting column over at SBNation, in which he explored sabermetric guru Bill James’s reasoning for defending Joe Paterno’s role in the Penn State scandal (the column, including James’s remarks, can be found here).
The entire Penn State scandal has really reinforced my lack of faith in humanity. The most tragic part is that most of this lack of faith steams from reasons aside from the whole child molestation aspect. It’s understandable why a scandal involving child rape would rile up the masses; but it’s disappointing that it’s caused most people to lose their fucking minds to the point where all objective debate is suspended. (Example: The other day on “ESPNCoversations” I stated that the “Death Penalty” may be warranted for Penn State, but that it shouldn’t come this season since private and public legal investigations are still ongoing, and that the guilt-less student athletes would have virtually no opportunity to transfer with the season and fall semester just a month away. I was met with a response that simply stated: “That’s your only reasoning? It was a child rape case.”)
So seeing a levelheaded mind like Neyer’s enter the discussion is refreshing. Prior to writing this column, I hadn’t really paid much attention to the James controversy, but seeing it now it’s unsurprising to see the masses are once again dismissing an opinion that says anything short of “burn down the school” without considering any other factors. As Neyer explains, in James’s case there may be a pretty significant piece of information to consider: James has likely read the manuscript for the yet-to-be-published Paterno biography by Joe Posnanski. Neyer explains the significance of this:
when Bill writes that Paterno fired Sandusky, he's either reading the Freeh Report incorrectly or he read something in Joe's book that suggests Paterno did actually force Sandusky out of coaching.
Bold is mine. Or:
(James on ESPN radio) “(Paterno) had very few allies. He was isolated, and he was not nearly as powerful as people imagine him to have been. And he had poor sources.”
(Neyer) None of that's in the Freeh Report, leaving me to guess it's instead in Joe Posnanski's manuscript.
In other words Bill James may have been privy to information that the majority of people didn't have, and thus formulated an opinion outside the mainstream. You'd think James would be use to this by now.
Neyer goes on to address James’s comments about showering with boys, the role the media has played, and then makes an ambiguous remark about the Paterno statue in the comment section. He also goes on to make his own points that could be written independently of the James controversy. Stating:
Should Paterno have done something to stop Sandusky?
Sure. So should McQueary, who saw Sundusky abusing a child. So should the two Penn State janitors who saw Sandusky abusing a child. None of those men have been seriously criticized, presumably because they were afraid of maybe losing their jobs ... Which sort of ignores the possibility that "maybe losing your job" is a lousy excuse for not reporting the sexual abuse of a child that you've personally witnessed.
Paterno's bosses at Penn State should have done something, too.
Everyone assumes that all of these men -- Paterno's bosses, and Paterno himself -- were evil, or at least acted evilly in this case, which means they acted evilly over the course of 10 years, or 13 if you start the clock in 1998.
That's not the way these things work, usually. There was never a moment when four men sat around a table and cackled with glee as they plotted to facilitate a known child molester. That meeting didn't happen. The truth is far more banal than that. They were instead a few moderately powerful men, weighing competing interests and making some truly unfortunate decisions along the way.
In 1998, they went by the book and Sandusky was cleared of wrongdoing by a variety of official entities. In 2001, they failed to connect the dots and they failed to separate Sandusky from the University and they failed to report him to the authorities. They blew it. Big time.
So why did I just spend the last 750 words (many of which where Neyer's) further watering down (and for the most part, simply recapping) the details of this sub-scandal with one or two of my own empty observations? Pretty much just so I could copy and paste what you see above. Whether or not Neyer is correct is up to you, but that’s beside my point. It sounds strange but the reason I like sports writers like Neyer has a lot to do with the reasons I like writers like John Steinbeck or even Hunter S. Thompson. In spite of the shitstorm we’ve routinely seen involving this scandal (and really with everything in the public eye) there’s something almost inspiring about finding a mind that can parse through a debate about “good” and “evil” and recognize that usually things just “are”, for better or worse.
What? This is a college baseball blog? Oh, err…. Hey Baseball America just wrote this: “Long Beach State landed a potential ace of its own in righty David Hill”. Yay!