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.”