Saturday, December 3, 2011

Syracuse & Penn State

Sometimes, I don't understand. When high level two Penn State employees were indicted for helping to cover up allegations of child molestation by a popular former assistant football coach (a guy whom no one outside of Happy Valley could have named on a bet), the media reaction was swift and unpitying. Joe Paterno, the face of Penn State football for five decades was unceremoniously fired, running a gauntlet of flashbulbs as he went. The president of the school was fired, too. A lot of outside observers said the football program should be eliminated entirely. Lost amid the hooting was that Paterno was contrite and anguished about what happened. Also lost was the minor detail that Paterno had, in fact, "notified the authorities" when someone came to him with a credible allegation of sexual abuse in the Penn State showers. And so on. 

So what the hell is going on at Syracuse University? 

There, the assistant basketball coach has been credibly accused of molesting at least three ball boys working for the team. (contrast that with Penn State, where Jerry Sandusky was using the facilities, but did not actually work for the university). Initially, iconic head coach Jim Boeheim didn't just defend Jerry Fine; he attacked the veracity of the accusers and suggested that they were just after some money. I never heard Joe-Pa say anything like that. He has since apologized, and Syracuse basketball has continued its season uninterrupted. There's no talk of "death penalties" for the program that I am aware of.

Wait, there's more!

The lead accuser is a guy named Bobby Davis, who says coach Fine started molesting him in seventh grade, and continued to do so through Davis's young adulthood. Several years ago Davis provided university trustees with a 2002 tape recording in which he and Fine's wife discussed the abuse. Now, here at Free Will HQ, we constantly receive secret tape recordings in which our friends and associates are credibly accused of sex crimes. We get so many of these that our policy has been to demand further proof - of the "DNA on a blue dress" variety - before we act. Therefore, we quite understand why the trustees, who seem to have received this tape back in 2005, and perhaps earlier, did nothing. 

It gets better. Do you want to know who else received a copy of the tape several years ago? ESPN! And they don't seem to have done much with it for the first 6-7 years it was in their possession. No follow up. No investigations. Nothing. This is a strangely passive reaction from a media company. It's not like Syracuse is some Division III bottom feeder. Boeheim's 2003 team won the national championship. And the media environment of the era saw no problem with Dan Rather airing forged Texas Air National Guard documents during a presidential campaign. 

This was also, needless to say, the era of the Duke Lacrosse rape case. Clearly, the media and university employees will jump all over certain types of rape accusations, no matter how ludicrous. But a tape recording about sexual molestation? Come back when you've got some corroboration, kid. 

ESPN did manage to pull the tape out of the circular file a few weeks ago when the scandal finally broke in the wake of the Penn State mess. As if on cue, the trustees fired Fine, this time without any hesitation. Hey, times change. (ESPN's rationalization for its inaction is funny as hell: something about wanting proof that Fine's wife was the other voice on the tape. ESPN finally got its "proof" from a YouTube video .That's what they say, anyway).

Now, Davis is no kid. He's 39 years old, which means he made his tape in his early thirties. What the hell does a grown man need to make a secret tape recording for? Didn't they have phones back in 2002? Call the police, dude, or at least call the university. Why skulk around making tape recordings? 

Also, Davis - and I want to say this as kindly as possible, so I don't have to give my own shame-faced press conference apology - gives every appearance of being a tortured soul, and a big part of his psychological make-up is dominated by issues related to his sexuality. Whether that's because he was abused by Fine, or Fine first approached Davis because he was psychologically vulnerable, I have no idea. It's certainly within the realm of possibility. And, Davis's relationship with the Fine family is one of long standing. Whatever abuse he may have suffered, he had no problem approaching Fine's wife and discussing an explosive and intimate matter. Oh, and supposedly Davis had a sexual relationship with Fine's wife, too. (I find this hard to believe, btw).

Still, we have a clear-cut case where the trustees, the head coach, and the biggest media organ in the sports world had credible accusations of sexual abuse and did nothing. No doubt the arm-chair sociologists fresh from psychoanalyzing the Penn State coaching staff will have plenty of long-winded explanations at the ready, should the need arise, but I think the answer is pretty simple. 

Coach Boeheim, the Syracuse trustees, and ESPN saw nothing wrong in what passed between Fine and Davis. That's because they didn't see a case of child molestation. They saw a homosexual relationship between a much-older man and an adolescent boy/young adult. That's a relationship dynamic that is quite prevalent in the gay community, no matter how many times they might exclude NAMBLA from the gay pride parade. It is also, needless to say, a big reason why many parents are leery of letting gay men do things like, say, take Boy Scouts out on camping trips. And, it is something that gay rights advocates are desperate to downplay, even as they know the truth (indeed, have no doubt experienced in their own lives). 

If Fine had been accused of having sex with a seventh grade girl, he would have been out of there years ago (and his wife would have left him, too). Hell, if Fine had been accused of declaring that former Syracuse star Donovan McNabb was overrated because he was black, ESPN would not have rested until Fine was cleaning out his desk.*

And, for the record, I don't think the folks at Penn State saw anything wrong with Sandusky's behavior either. The problem there was that the boys were, apparently, a little too young for comfort. 

It's been a common complaint among parents in the years since the sexual revolution that it is impossible to raise "good" kids because there are no standards, at least not in public, but the standards are not that hard to understand. For example, if you are Herman Cain, your time as a national figure will be three months, while the time of, say, Bill Clinton will be three decades (and counting). If you are a member of  socially approved victim class, then any accusation of a crime you might make will get a respectful hearing, no matter how implausible. If, however, you are victimized by a member of a victim class, well, suddenly it's hard to get people to return your phone calls. 

* yes, I am shamelessly stealing this line from Rush Limbaugh, who has also been hinting broadly along the lines of this post for several weeks now.

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