Morality is alive and well on the airwaves of sports talk-radio. The ethical crisis of the moment is what did Joe Paterno know about the sexual abuse of boys by a former assistant coach and when did he know it. The issue has led to remarkable moral clarity for talk-show hosts who generally embrace views that the Baylys associate with secularism and relativism in the United States. Why, Angelo Cataldi, has even called for the firing of Joe Paterno for not controlling the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the security forces of Penn State University, and not knowing every single aspect of the football program at PSU. In other words, Joe Pa should be fired for not being God.
This is not a post about sexual abuse. It is about ethical abuse.
First, Angelo and company have no apparent capacity to consider what friendships may do in preventing someone from leaning hard on a friend and colleague. Would those who are calling for Paterno’s firing be so quick to decide so categorically to eliminate a friend or relative? Isn’t one of the most persistent problems of human existence that moral ideals run up against personal allegiances all the time? Does this make violations of an ethical code right? No. But the inability to imagine the angst that someone like Paterno may have gone and still be going through is the sort of one-dimensional outlook that prevents evangelicals and other pietists from ever reading novels that explore morally ambiguous circumstances.
For instance, Bunk Moreland is one of the great characters on The Wire. And in Season Five Bunk knows what Jimmy is doing to bring a drug lord to conviction — namely, breaking the law and police regulations. Bunk disapproves mightily of Jimmy’s misdeeds. But Bunk never tells on Jimmy. Was I outraged that Bunk didn’t rat? Duh! Bunk remains one of my favorite characters despite his moral weakness. This is the stuff of life. It is likely what Joe Pa has gone through many times. (Of course, it could be that Paterno doesn’t care a wit about his former colleague or the boys the ex-coach abused. But how someone could be that cynical and that morally self-righteous all in one gulp gives my brain indigestion.)
But the moral crisis thickens when listeners remember that the show Angelo and company broadcast is sponsored by many gentlemen’s clubs where the lines distinguishing the righteous from the unrighteous are not so clear. Granted, Angelo may argue that pedophiliac sex is not consensual, is if voluntarism justifies willful lying before a grand jury or driving eighty-one miles per hour on the Ohio Turnpike. But last time I heard, human trafficking was one of the great illicit activities in our time and many of the women who come to the United States through human trafficking wind up in gentlemen’s clubs (see Season Two of The Wire). And has Angelo ever considered that some of the people who engage in the activities that transpire in gentlemen’s clubs end up being hurt by such behavior — from sexually transmitted diseases to psychological and spiritual scars that will follow the dancers and their tippers around the rest of their lives?
So it is not at all clear that Angelo and others who self-righteously condemn Joe Paterno are all that free and clear from the moral law they so eagerly enforce.
Will I be disappointed if it turns out that Joe Pa looked the other way too many times and didn’t seek to protect kids from lecherous men? Yes. But I am also disappointed in a talk-show host who (while driving my wife nuts when he talks about babes and boobs) is generally entertaining but so morally obtuse not to see that most days he should be disappointed in himself before pointing out the moral failings of others.