This terrible Penn State cover-up has been on my mind again, and I found myself thinking—I don’t mean to say that this is some new insight or anything, but the idea of it preyed on me, and it’s this: if Mike McQueary found Jerry Sandusky in the back of the gym repeatedly punching a ten-year-old boy in the stomach, I suspect the Mr. McQueary would have intervened immediately, and the school would have fully cooperated in the ensuing assault charges. It’s an exercise in imagination, but it’s easier to imagine than what actually happened. In fact, if Jerry Sandusky had been witnessed in 1998 slapping kids in the face with his open palm (or whatever seems to correspond to the naked grinding that he admitted to at the time) the reason for his dismissal would have been made public. I can’t prove it, of course, but that’s my gut instinct, and there have been several well-publicized cases involving coaches whacking kids.
Everybody—well, not everybody, obviously, but pretty nearly everybody, and close enough to everybody that disagreement is shamed into silence—feels that raping a kid up the ass is much, much worse than punching him repeatedly in the stomach. I suspect that the reason a person like Mr. Sandusky is able to get away with it for so long is because his violence is considered so much worse. I remember a line in a play saying that there has never been a taboo against committing incest and child abuse, just a very powerful taboo against talking about it. This is overstated (it was a play, after all), but it’s the kind of overstated thing that sticks in the mind and is actually fairly helpful in understanding the thing that it overstates. The taboo against talking about child rape, the stigma of being accused of child rape is so great, that it may prevent people from making such accusations even when presented with the evidence.
Had Joe Paterno fired a close associate for beating up a ten-year-old kid, he would have been a hero. If he fired a close associate for raping a ten-year-old kid, he might have been tainted himself. Maybe that’s overstating it, too, but maybe it isn’t.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,