Pope Angelo

First, he condemned Joe Paterno to hell.

Now, Angelo Cataldi opens the pearly gates for Darren Daulton, the Phillies catcher who succumbed to brain cancer yesterday. On this morning’s show, Angelo told one caller whose mom, now deceased, had a crush on the sexiest MLB player of the 1990s, that she now had the chance to meet Dutch since both the mom and the catcher were in heaven.

I initially thought that Angelo was going beyond the creed of Therapeutic Moralistic Deism. Maybe this was a holdover from his pre-Vatican II upbringing in the archdiocese of Providence, Rhodes Island. Surely the idea of heaven and hell — eternal rewards and punishments — was harshing out his listener’s buzz of learning about car insurance discounts and dancers at “gentlemen”‘s clubs. But sure enough, heaven is part of Therapeutic Moralistic Deism’s creed:

God is a cosmic therapist and divine butler, ready to help out when needed. He exists but really isn’t a part of our lives. We are supposed to be “good people,” but each person must find what’s right for him or her. Good people will go to heaven, and we shouldn’t be stifled by organized religion where somebody tells us what we should do or what we should believe.

Mind you, Angelo should not speculate on Daulton’s eternal fate. It’s not what sports-talk-radio-hosts should do. But if Angelo is going to create a moral spread sheet on every sports figure in Philadelphia, can he himself really stand in that great day?

The State of the Nation

Another round of travel allowed for more sustained sampling of the news and those matters that afflict our great pretty good land. A few random thoughts:

Forgiveness
Can Bill Cosby ever receive the forgiveness that Dylann Roof has found (at least from the AME church members in Charleston — the government of the United States is a whole lot more demanding)? And why is Cosby’s sexual dalliance and proclivity so despicable when the nation is celebrating a kind of sex that the same nation used to regard as deviant? At least if you want an illustration of God’s righteous standard, just look at the way the United States condemns/ed Bill Cosby and Joe Paterno.

Transcendent
Rachel Dolezal proves that transracial is illegitimate but Caitlyn Jenner proves that transgender is fine. But what about transnational? What if I am a Irish person trapped in an American body? Can I change my nationality? If I can’t, then don’t we have another barrier to be toppled? Or is it that the nation-state is almighty while race and gender are ephemeral?

The Nation’s Greatest Threats
I used to think that a hate crime raised the stakes of criminal activity, though I would have assumed that killing another person was hateful. After all, our Lord said that if you hate another man, you are guilty of murder. But after coverage of the the shootings in Chattanooga, I learned that terrorism is even worse than a hate crime. But the reports were not clear on the order of threats and the Department of Homeland Security has yet to rank them. Here’s an initial stab:
1. Terrorism
2. Islamism
3. The Confederate Flag
4. Hate Crimes

Blame the Victim
I’m with President Obama in trying to overturn many of the pernicious penalties associated with the War on Drugs (see, it wasn’t on the list of the nation’s greatest threats). Pardoning those sent to prison on old drug laws makes sense. But if these convicts are victims of bad legislation, is Greece also a victim of overly strict banking rules? Yet, I heard some commentators explain that Greece is truly responsible for their actions and needs to face the consequences of a bad economy and poor government. So if you can say that about a nation, why not about persons? Or might Greece plead insanity? But that didn’t work for James Holmes, who was found guilty for twelve counts of murder during his shooting spree in a Colorado movie theater.

I can only conclude that Americans are conflicted about blaming people for crimes or misdeeds, except when it comes to Bill Cosby and Joe Paterno.

Mark Emmert, the Avon Barksdale of College Athletics

Christians, Mormons, Muslims, and Jews worried about the spread of moral relativism in the United States should be encouraged by the sanctions against Penn State imposed this morning by the NCAA (which include vacating all of Joe Paterno’s victories between 1998 and 2011). Granted, Americans show no consensus on gay marriage or abortion, but with slavery and racism now child molestation also is settled. Actually, instead of being relativistic, Americans are morally rigid about most matters. Even pro-choice advocates are emphatic about the moral good of a woman’s right to choose, as well as the immorality of the pro-life position. The problem in the United States is not a lack of morality. It is that most every issue comes in either black or white. This means that a lack of moral consensus among Americans is to put it mildly, contested.

What is less clear is whether Americans are capable of distinguishing among the depravity of various vices the way, say, the Shorter Catechism talks about some transgressions of the law being more heinous in the sight of God than others. The case of Joe Paterno is proof. The overwhelming condemnation of the recently deceased coach would tempt a visitor from Mars to think that Paterno himself had molested the boys who came through Penn State’s football facility. But covering up a felony is not the same level of offense as committing a felony. Just ask Chuck Colson and Richard Nixon.

The laws of Indiana, the site of NCAA headquarters, may be instructive here (even though they played no role in Mark Emmert’s decision to punish Penn State and the reputation of Joe Paterno. Child molestation is a Class A felony in Indiana and is punishable by a sentence of a minimum of six years in prison (according to a 2000 summary). Perjury, on the other hand, is a Class D felony in Indiana and brings with it up to ten months in prison and a possible fine of $10,000. It is fairly clear that Paterno did not commit child molestation. The worst that he did was to lie before the Grand Jury, a difference between a Class A and Class D felony (it would seem to this legally challenged observer). If his offense was simply not reporting Sandusky, Indiana law classifies this as a Class B misdemeanor, which could bring a fine of $1,000 and a prison sentence of up to 180 days.

But this is all based on Indiana law, the jurisdiction where Mark Emmert and his colleagues work. According to one story from last fall, Pennsylvania has no law requiring persons to report child abuse.

What this suggests is that the NCAA is a lot harder on crime than the states themselves which have law enforcement officers with real guns and facilities with real bars and really sharp barbed wire. That may be a good thing, though I can’t imagine Emmert taking away JoePa’s wins if the coach were still alive. (The courage of the NCAA only goes so far.) But it does confirm my impression, after several viewings of The Wire, that justice mediated the state is more forgiving than justice executed outside the law. For anyone who challenged Avon or Marlo, eliminating the challenger’s existence was the only way to maintain order. But inside the agencies of the police, public school teachers, city administration, or journalism, if you violated procedures or lied to bosses, you got a reassignment, a demotion, or at worst lost your job. But unlike Barksdale’s lieutenants who cheated their boss, if you lied to the city editor of the Sunpapers about your source, you lived to see another day.

After today’s actions, the NCAA appears to exhibit a form of justice much closer to drug dealers than to civil authorities. Unfortunately for Paterno, he is not alive to see a day on his calendar that includes a visit to Emmert’s office in Indianapolis.

Men and Monsters

Imagine a couple of hypothetical scenarios. Both involve your spouse.

Say your husband telecommutes to an educational non-profit. He works from home about three weeks a month, and goes to the office for one week of meetings and other business functions. When at home you notice that he sometimes takes an afternoon off and has a cocktail while streaming a movie on Netflix. You ask if he should be doing this and he says probably not. But he adds, “when the cat’s away dot dot dot” and goes back to his movie. Do you call his boss and tell about his abuse of company time — he is getting paid full-time, after all? Or do you grin, bear it, and look for another opportunity to bring up his ill-formed work ethic?

Here’s the second hypothetical. Say your wife, who works for another non-profit, this one a county agency that places homeless families in government-assisted facilities, has figured out a way to embezzle funds from several budget lines in her agency. You are disappointed. When you discover that she is using the money to pay for a high-end collection of running gear that you thought was pretty pricey but decided not to inquire about because you are often accused of being a control freak, you become angry. But what do you do, after you confront her and she says she is sorry and will stop? Do you tell her boss and thus insure that she will lose her job, which will certainly hurt the family’s financial health? Do you report her to the civil authorities and risk seeing your wife going to jail? Or do you simply tell your session so that they can shepherd your wife to repentance?

The point of these scenarios is that when you are close to or love someone who does something wrong, you are likely not to get litigious and insist that the full force of the law be brought against your relative or friend. Instead, you will likely try to do anything to save your spouse from punishment and embarrassment. You may know that this is wrong. But the law is a cold instrument when it comes to loving someone and looking out for them. You may even be willing to let someone else be the bad cop rather than yourself. In the long run it may even help the relationship that you were not the snitch while your conscience is clear in not having to cover for your friend or relative.

Longtime readers of Old Life may likely see where this is going if they have been following the news about Penn State. Yesterday, the Louis Freeh report on the Sandusky scandal at Penn State came out. Philadelphia’s talk show hosts cannot shut up about it. Too good for ratings, not to mention more self-righteous posturing. But it has also been in the headlines of most radio news syndicates. The report is a big deal because it shows apparently that Joe Paterno, the man considered to be without a moral peer in the world of collegiate athletics, knew about Sandusky’s behavior and kept it from “authorities” (Freeh used this word frequently in his remarks before the press but did not define them — are they civil, political, religious, university, divine?).

I do not doubt that Joe Paterno did something here that was wrong — how wrong is a question that few in our culture of moral midgets are qualified to determine. I am even convinced that he committed other acts that were wrong. How his career should be regarded is hard to say since the public is involved in this process of regarding and right now JoePa’s stock has plummeted. Reputations are flimsy investments. Whether I am a moral cretin for not shouting from the mountain top that JoePa is desperately wicked may be debatable if readers take into account the scenarios above. I did not know Joe Paterno personally. But from what I did know, he was a hero, a friend, a commendable “authority,” someone to whom to be loyal. For this reason, I cannot look at JoePa only through the bright light of the law, or through harrowing thoughts about Sandusky’s victims. JoePa was admirable and a moral failing does not change all his other accomplishments.

Could it be that Sandusky was at one time also an admirable man? Could it be that JoePa esteemed Sandusky and did not want to see his friend suffer, even though he knew that what Sandusky was doing was wrong? Freeh’s report never considers this angle. In fact, a line from Freeh’s remarks to the press yesterday indicate what may be a glaring flaw in this report:

The evidence shows that Mr. Paterno was made aware of the 1998 investigation of Sandusky, followed it closely, but failed to take any action, even though Sandusky had been a key member of his coaching staff for almost 30 years, and had an office just steps away from Mr. Paterno’s.

The words, “even though,” suggest that Paterno should have taken action against Sandusky precisely because he had such a long association with him. It assumes, quite counter intuitively, that the closer you are to someone, the more inclined you will be to turn them in. Huh? What makes much more sense, at least on planet earth, as opposed to the moral laboratory that most commentators on this scandal inhabit, is that Paterno did not take any action precisely because he was so close to Sandusky. Maybe the report says a lot about the relationship between JoePa and Sandusky that would undermine this speculation. But Freeh’s remarks never seen to entertain this possibility. (Freeh even says in god-like fashion that Paterno and company did nothing to stop Sandusky. Was Freeh a fly on the wall in JoePa’s office, home, or local watering hole where the head coach may have pleaded with his assistant to stop playing around with boys? Was Freeh actually tailing JoePa with FBI agents long before he conducted this investigation?)

And one of the reasons why Freeh and others can’t fathom that JoePa may have had a close and fraternal bond with Sandusky is that for most Americans a pederast is not a human being but a monster. So it is unthinkable that anyone could ever like or love such a person. But if sin comes in all shapes and sizes, in persons lovable, smart, funny, intelligent, and even inspiring, then it is possible to imagine why JoePa may have acted the way he did. Heck, all of us who are married, have children, or come from families (which would be practically anyone reading this) knows what it is like to look away from a loved one’s foibles, failings, and sins, and “pick your battles.”

He Was a Coach, Not God

Joe Paterno was three years younger than my father and JoePa outlived dad by almost two years. I admired both men greatly, partly because of their decency which may have been responsible for their moral naivete. Recently Angelo Cataldi became indignant over Paterno’s remarks to the Washington Post that even if the report to him about Jerry Sandusky’s antics in the shower were more specific, the head coach wasn’t sure what he would have done because he did not know what man-rape was. Angelo could not imagine someone being that ignorant in the ways of the world. I can. My parents and parents-in-law were of the same generation as JoePa, the so-called “Greatest,” a demographic of Americans not reared on HBO and totally lacking in knowledge of gentlemen’s clubs and lap dances. Of course, Angelo knows all about the black side of sexual conduct because his regular guests are strippers and he admits to surfing for porn in off hours. But that doesn’t prevent Angelo from being outraged over JoePa’s innocence. This is where we are culturally — those who know the perversions tarnish the reputations of those who don’t. (And can anyone imagine the human resources officers at Penn State calling in JoePa at the age of 75 to attend a seminar on man-boy relations?)

My dad died a Penn State fan but it took him a while to warm up to the Nittany Lions’ head coach. The problem was JoePa’s reaction to the 1969 National Championship game. To put that incident in perspective, I resort to a story at ESPN:

The Nittany Lions went 5-5 in 1966, and Paterno responded not only by designing a new defense, but by shifting his best talent to that side of the ball. In the third game of the 1967 season, Penn State almost upset No. 3 UCLA, losing 17-15. The Nittany Lions fell to 1-2. However, they didn’t lose another game until 1970.

Penn State won the last seven games of the 1967 season, tied Florida State, 17-17, in the Gator Bowl, and went 11-0 in each of the next two seasons. In 1968, Penn State finished second to undefeated, untied Ohio State. In 1969, the Nittany Lions finished the regular season ranked third behind No. 1 Texas and No. 2 Arkansas, who played on Dec. 6. President Richard Nixon not only attended the game, but after the Longhorns won, 15-14, with a dramatic late-game touchdown, he declared them national champion.

In his career at Penn State, Paterno, a Republican, befriended almost every Republican president. He gave a nominating speech for George H.W. Bush at the 1988 Republican Convention at the Louisiana Superdome, the same building where Penn State had won Paterno’s first national championship six seasons earlier. The Penn State media guide included photos of Paterno with Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

But after the 1969 season Paterno had little regard for Nixon. Paterno’s most famous line regarding a president came in his commencement address at Penn State in 1973, as the public had begun to realize that the Watergate scandal had reached the Oval Office.

“How could Nixon know so little about Watergate and so much about football?” Paterno asked. A year later, Nixon resigned from the presidency.

In 1973, the Nittany Lions went 12-0 but finished only fifth in the nation. Disgusted with the polls, Paterno declared that “the Paterno Poll” had named Penn State No. 1 and had national championship rings made for his players.

That kind of self-congratulations did not sit well with Jay Hart. Nor did Paterno’s dismissal of Nixon. Although my parents had not voted for Nixon in 1968, they were law-abiding Americans who respected the president as something that came with being a citizen.

Over time, the Harts warmed to JoePa and Penn State. How could you not with a coach that played by the rules, worked to make his students study and graduate, and won on top of it all? JoePa had a work ethic, sense of duty, and integrity — despite coming from the wrong Christian faith — that even fundamentalist Protestants could admire.

I am sad that JoePa is no longer among us. My father and I shared too many good times cheering on the Nittany Lions for me not to think that I have embarked on an era of life, begun by dad’s death and now underlined by JoePa’s, that will be marked by the absence of the Greatest Generation. They certainly had their faults. But they were better than we are. For that reason I am glad that JoePa will be spared further assessment by that Generation’s ungrateful, disrespectful, and morally bankrupt children.

The Day of Moral Perplexity Has Come for Angelo Cataldi

I had thought about entitling this post, “Predators All,” since the revelations of child molestation mount and mount. First it was the Roman Catholic Church, then Penn State, then Hollywood, and now comes word from several adults that Bill Conlin, a longtime baseball beat reporter for Philadelphia’s Daily News, molested them as children. This news cuts close to home for our dear moral blow hard, Angelo Cataldi, since Cataldi has hosted Conlin many times on the show to talk RBI’s and walks-hits-per-inning. Even closer to home, Angelo and Bill are neighbors during the summer when they occupy their beach houses in Sea Isle City, New Jersey.

Not that anyone living outside the Delaware Valley really cares about these Philadelphia media figures, but listening to the shows today (now that classes are over and grades are in) may be of interest to non-Philadelphians if only because of the tone that the various hosts have deployed to discuss this latest scandal. As clear as Angelo and others have been in condemning the alleged acts, the hosts have also exhibited a degree of anguish that was entirely lacking in the case of Joe Paterno. (One important difference is that Conlin yesterday resigned from his writing post, so no one can call for his job.)

On the one hand, all the talk show hosts looked up to Conlin as one of the best baseball minds in Philadelphia (a mind and voice that earned him the J. G. Taylor Spink Award this year for meritorious contributions to baseball writing). In other words, they knew him and could never have imagined that Conlin was capable of such behavior. Now, though, the moral wheels are grinding and different hosts are agonizing over the darkness of human nature, and wondering how much they need to be suspicious of anyone they know.

On the other hand, the hosts are not nearly so condemning of the adults who enabled Conlin (allegedly) to escape any charges for over forty years (and now the statute of limitations means that Conlin will not face criminal charges). No one is wondering who among Conlin’s editors knew about this. No one is blaming the parents of these children who did know (allegedly) of the molestation but did nothing because they did not want to hurt a friend and family member who was coming into his own as a reporter and columnist.

In other words, what is happening in the world of Philadelphia sports journalism is precisely what did not happen when news from Happy Valley arrived in Philadelphia. Instead of imagining how those close to Jerry Sandusky might have reacted to protect both a friend and an institution, Philadelphia journalists called for the figurative death penalty for everyone close to Sandusky.

It is a complicated world out there.

By the way, I keep wondering when the shoe is going to drop in all of these child molestation scandals. We live at a time when practically every form of sexual desire is tolerated; the institutions that promote some of those forms even wind up sponsoring sports talk radio. So why exactly, for instance, do these men who sometimes go to gentlemen’s clubs think that sex between an adult and a child is wicked and perverse? The obvious answer is consent. The children are subordinate to the predators and have no recourse. The flip side of this deduction is that consensual sex is fine, no matter how kinky.

What I don’t understand is how consent makes sex, no matter how perverse, okay. Is the desire of a man for a boy okay? Is it perverse and disgusting? Or does it only become twisted when carried out on a boy (who is incapable of giving consent)? Could it be that certain forms of sex are perverse, no matter whether the partners are consenting and no matter how “natural” either of the partner’s desire is? Could it even be that sex between a married woman and her single boss is also perverse no matter how consensual the sex or natural the adulterers’ desires are?

The reason for asking is to see if the moral sense that does regard child molestation as heinous might also be available to draw lines in other places. These other lines would and should apply as much to heterosexual as to homosexual forms of sexual desire. Ideally, the true form of consensual sex would be one where two people have consented to be each other’s sexual partner for life and to be responsible for rearing any offspring that proceed from their sexual relations.

Imagine A World Without Moral Dilemmas (or not)

One of the recurring points made by Joe Paterno’s detractors is the one repeated by Rhea Hughes, Angelo Cataldi’s female sidekick, who sits idly by when the busty bimbos traipse through the studio but draws the line when Michael Vick mistreats dogs or when Joe Pa fails to do more than pick up the phone. Rhea has noted often the past few days how someone’s perspective on Paterno and the scandal at Penn State might change if he imagined that the children allegedly abused were his own grandchildren. That kind of personal connection supposedly tips the balance, clarifies the situation, and reveals the guilt of the PSU officials — including Joe Pa.

But once you start the engine of your imagination, it actually creates more dilemmas than it resolves. For instance, Rhea, imagine the following:

That Joe Paterno is your grandfather.

That you are Joe Pa’s priest and he has confessed his sin and you want to tell the police.

That you are a reporter and have evidence that would convict Sandusky but without revealing your source it is only hearsay.

That you are Paterno’s attorney and know the truth but need to represent your client.

That you are Sandusky’s friend.

That you are a smoker.

That the fundamentalists really did win.

That John Lennon wrote a song called “Imagine.”

Oh, that’s right, Lennon did and it was as ethereal as the moral certainty is absolute that afflicts scandalmongering.