Monday, July 23, 2012

Let's Define "Innocent," Shall We?

Today Penn State got slapped with pretty damn severe penalties by the NCAA for its part in condoning and covering up Jerry Sandusky's predatory attacks on boys and young men.

A little finger-pointing years ago would have helped,
you bastard.
Among other things, Penn State must pay a $60 million fine over five years, which will be donated to programs that aid victims of sexual abuse. The Nittany Lions football team is also banned from post-season play (and revenue) for the next four seasons, and its ability to award scholarships has been curtailed (but not eliminated). And Coach Joe Paterno - God rest his cowardly soul - is being stripped of 14 seasons' worth of victories, which dumps him from the top of the list of most winning college coaches.

Personally, I believe that since knowledge of and inaction toward Sandusky's crimes was institutional, it's appropriate that the sanctions affect the entire school. I think there should be restitution paid to those of his victims who can be identified, but I suppose that's a matter for civil courts to handle, rather than the NCAA. The fact that $60 million will be paid to abuse programs and not simply to line the NCAA's pockets seems fair and palliative.

Discussions about the sanctions and their merit are swirling in the media today, naturally. They mostly break down into two main topics: Do the fines and penalties go too far/not far enough in punishing Penn State, and do they unfairly punish innocent people (football players, students, alumni) who will suffer most for a crime they didn't commit?

Well, the first topic can certainly be debated. As for the second...ARE YOU PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR FREAKING MINDS????

Seriously, dude, WTF?
Who are these "innocent people," and how are they suffering?

Current Nittany Lions players? They still get to play the game they were recruited to play, and any player who's bumming over the chance to make a bowl game can transfer without penalty to any college that wants him.

Aspiring Nittany Lions who will miss out on a football scholarship? I didn't go to college on a football scholarship. In fact, I don't know anyone who went to college on a football scholarship. Maybe I should include more jocks in my circle of friends. The point is, millions of people who don't happen to be top athletes manage to attend the university of their choice without a free ride. Sometimes they don't even get their first choice. That's known as the "boo-hoo-who-said-life-is-fair" doctrine.

Penn State students and alumni? I'm sure there are more than a few right now who are being unfairly painted with a negative brush. PSU folk traditonally are proud of and fiercely loyal to their alma mater, and their alma mater has just received a huge black eye. Plus their team can't win any championships for a while. Oh, the pain. I know, it's not the fault of any of these current and former students that Jerry Sandusky is a monster and his bosses are creeps. So why hand down a punishment that will hurt their pride so?

Oh, shut up. You live in America, and you don't know how it feels to be branded an asshole by association? Where are your laments when we bomb the crap out of a village full of innocent Afghanis to get to the handful of Taliban extremists hiding there? That's unfair victimization. You're just losing bragging rights to some goddamn football games.

What happened at Penn State was horrible. Young men in need of positive role models were exploited and abused, and the university let it happen to protect the reputation (and income) of a football team. The football players didn't do anything wrong. The students and professors didn't do anything wrong. But to suggest that the institution shouldn't be punished because it will inconvenience or embarrass people who are "innocent" is a bastardization of the word.

"Innocence" is what those boys lost forever when they were molested by Jerry Sandusky, a man they trusted. "Innocence" is a legal term that was correctly tossed out by the jury in his trial. "Innocence" is not an immunity talisman that protects us from guilt by association or excuses us from taking it on the chin when an institution we're connected with - "innocently" - does something wrong.

All those people who worked for Enron until it collapsed in scandal were innocent. So were the Vietnam vets who were spit on when they returned from an unpopular war. It's not fair, and it's not right. But the institutions that they suffered for in effigy deserved what they got, even if the individuals didn't.

Again, boo-hoo. Life is for shit sometimes.

Do you think it's unfair that some people in Aurora, Colorado didn't get to see The Dark Knight Rises this past weekend because the Century Aurora 16 was closed? What happened at the theatre wasn't their fault. Why should they suffer? They're innocent.

It's not an extreme analogy. We've lost sight of what it means to be a victim. Twelve people are dead and nearly 60 were injured because of James Holmes' senseless massacre. They and their families are innocent victims. Holmes' parents have to live with the knowledge that their son is one of the worst mass murderers in U.S. history. They are innocent victims. Nothing that will be done to Holmes will change that.

But the guy who can't wear his Batman mask to a movie any more? Not a victim.

Just like the people who can't bring their own bottled water on airplanes any more. It's damn inconvenient. It's even somewhat ridiculous, and it's probably overkill. But you're not a victim because you have to check the bag that holds your full-size shampoo bottle.

And none of us is innocent. Because no matter if you're talking about the Penn State scandal, the Aurora shooting, or 9/11, it could have been us. It could have been our kids. It could have been our loved ones. We're all tainted by the crimes, and to say the punishments go too far is to suggest we'd let them happen again, because - this time - it wasn't us.

We're all victims. But none of us is innocent.

1 comment:

You're thinking it, you may as well type it. The only comments you'll regret are the ones you don't leave. Also, replies to threads make puppies grow big and strong.