I Am A Bigger Man Than Angelo Cataldi But Not Joe Paterno

The latest news of Joe Pa’s firing led Angelo to inaugurate his 6:00 am show today with these words, “Justice has been served.” This is a peculiar rendering of the situation. Authorities have brought allegations of sexual abuse by a former Penn State Coach. That coach is out on bail. The trial has not started. He is, according to American jurisprudence, innocent. No jury has pronounced him guilty. No judge has issued a sentence. But not Joe Pa, according to Angelo. Joe is guilty of covering up an act which has yet to be proven. “Unfrigginbelievable” does not do justice to the leaps in legal and moral logic in this declaration.

Just to keep tabs on Angelo’s moral imbecility, today he called Sandusky’s problem — the guy who is alleged to have abused the boys — “mental.” Angelo also admitted that Joe Pa was not guilty of breaking any law, but he was morally culpable. This is convenient for a man who sponsors an annual wing-eating contest where sexual perversions (all consensual and hetero, of course) add zest to the already “hot” wings. I would like to see Angelo devote an entire show to the moral difference between sexual failings and poor judgment. I would also like Angelo to explain what exactly he knows about the situation since so much of it remains murky. Earlier in the week Angelo referred to the incident in the shower as “rape.” Now he is calling it “groping” and “fondling.” Angelo is ignorant. But he “knows” that it could not have been any of the kinds of tomfoolery that goes on in boys and men’s locker rooms. From his vantage 220 miles and ten years away, the incident had to be foul and libidinous, and that Joe’s knowledge of it was fouler and wicked.

Meanwhile, Angelo and crew mocked the Penn State students who rioted last night. One of WIP’s other hosts, Big Daddy Graham, called for closing the entire university, that is how immoral the situation is. Never did it dawn on any of these radio hosts that they are as hysterical as the PSU fans of Joe. Nor did they consider how the media feeding frenzy may have contributed to the clunky — to say the least — handling of Joe’s dismissal and the reaction from PSU students. (Could not the University have suspended Joe for the rest of the season and then let him retire?) Then again, these folks have no moral imagination whatsoever. I guess when they are right, the mysteries of human existence evaporate.

But someone with a moral imagination might also consider what the parents of these boys knew and when they knew it. I know it is wrong to blame the victim. But if the problem in this scenario is the god-like status of Joe Paterno, his ability to raise money for the school because of his squeaky clean image, and the school’s need to keep Joe Pa’s idol free from any tarnish, then didn’t the parents of these boys contribute to the problem? Weren’t they sending their boys to these programs precisely because of their adulation of Joe Pa and colleagues? To be sure, such idolatry does not deserve sexual abuse. But Joe’s pristine image was the creation of more than PSU. It included parents who wanted their boys to play there. It also involved reporters and radio talk-show hosts who fed the publicity of Division One football programs. But for Angelo, Joe alone needs to atone for the sins of all these idolaters.

Angelo deserves some credit for seeing a few moral complications. When former governor Ed Rendell came on yesterday’s show and counselled caution and letting the gears of justice grind, Angelo wondered if Rendell had actually known about the situation at PSU during his tenure in Harrisburg. This raised the same moral problem of what did Rendell know and when did he know it, and whether the governor was actually guilty of the same indiscretion as Joe Pa. But because the former governor and former mayor of Philadelphia has been a friend of Angelo’s show and is a regular on the Comcast Eagle’s post-game show (good sabbatarian that I am, I don’t watch it, really — plus we don’t get cable), Angelo was unwilling to press Rendell on his responsibility. (Angelo resembled Bunk in Season Five during Jimmy’s shenanigans.)

The one relatively interesting comment today came from Al Morganti who generally avoids Angelo’s hysteria (though he is the mastermind of Wing Bowl). Al argued that this scandal affects the entire university because PSU is beholden to the football program. That’s likely true. But Al did not go far enough. American higher education is beholden to the NCAA (at least in Division One sports). All university presidents should be looking at themselves in the mirror today and for many years to come over the dependence of their institutions on athletic programs that have almost nothing to do with an education except for paying bills (and even then the proceeds from Division One football — as I understand — go more to fund sports programs that can’t pay their bills, not to put more books in the library — though Paterno has been a champion of learning and the library at PSU in ways unimaginable with the peripatetic Nick Sabin now at Alabama).

In the end, what is most aggravating about the end of Joe’s career is that it came during a cultural moment when moral coarseness prevails but — perhaps to avoid utter degeneracy — the same culture inflicts a one-strike-and-you’re-out policy. It is the same culture that judges the founders of the United States as odious because they held and countenanced slavery. This is a form of moral discernment that brings ruin on the reputation and accomplishments of reputable and accomplished people (despite their fallenness) because of one offense. For the next several years, people will remember Paterno more for this scandal than his remarkable career and appealing persona. That persona was evident even in his two statements — one of retirement and one after being fired. No bitterness, only gratitude did he express for his beloved PSU, despite being treated fairly shabbily by administrators apparently intent on saving face.

Of course, moral perfectionists like Angelo will read Paterno’s statements cynically, as someone who is still trying to cover his behind. What Angelo and other secular Wesleyans need to remember is that the one-strike-and-you’re-out policy is a moral standard reserved for God. The rest of us schlubs, whether redeemed or not, know that we have already struck out.

But I will not retaliate in a way fitting Angelo’s self-righteousness. I will not fire him from my life even though he has shown remarkable stupidity and absurd moral discretion. I still enjoy the banter about Philadelphia sports and like to hear many of the writers that appear on the show when the hosts actually talk about sports. Still, I cling to the hope that someday Angelo will interview Paterno, Joe Pa accepts, and and the octogenarian proceeds to knock the hysterical moral bully on his ever widening can.