Criminals are stupid. Not all of them, of course. I suppose there must a few Prof. Moriarty masterminds out there, living quietly in splendor in Monaco, having pulled off whatever heists they managed to get away with, unapprehended.
But as a general rule, they’re stupid and they expect other people to be dumb, too.
This came to mind listening to former Penn State football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s hushed, hesitant interview with NBC’s Bob Costas, describing how he did not commit the acts of rape against boys that various witnesses claimed they saw him performing, that all he engaged in was “horseplay” in the shower.
Naked in the shower horseplay.
That alone, frankly, is unimaginable, in my view obviously the prettied-up version, all he’ll admit on TV — heck, maybe that’s all he’ll admit even to himself. Never underestimate the ability of people to lie, to rationalize, to try to deceive themselves and others.
No adult man would contemplate the naked shower routine that Sandusky confesses to. I was a coach — once, for one season. My younger boy was in 2nd grade, and every other dad refused the job. I was the last person asked, for obvious reasons — no athletic knowledge or ability. But the organizers said, basically, unless you coach the team, it won’t have a coach and there won’t be a team.
I didn’t want to live in a world where no adult would step forward so kids could play basketball and figured: they’re 7 years old. They need to shoot, pass and dribble. Even someone completely devoid of sports knowledge — aka, me — can help them learn that.
The moment in my coaching career that came rushing back as I listened to Jerry Sandusky happened during a game. One of my kid’s shoelaces was undone. “Your shoe’s untied, buddy,” I said, or words to that effect, and he just stood there and stared at me, a beseeching look that told me he had not yet mastered the whole shoe-tying skillset. He was 7 remember; it sometimes takes time.
I knew what I had to do, but was reluctant to do it, because it seemed a personal, almost intimate thing to do, to tie the shoe of a child not my own. I looked around, hoping some mom would step in but finally, sighing, got down on one knee and tied the kid’s shoe.
Still, it felt strange, even in the middle of a the court during a break in the game.
Is that timid? It strikes me as a fairly typical response, and a reminder of the collateral damage caused by Jerry Sandusky (innocent until proven guilty, of course, but jeez it sure looks bad) and his ilk, beyond their victims, who are scared for life, but to all the coaches and teachers who work with kids on any level. A child sometimes needs a hug, and doesn’t get it, because adults who aren’t pedophiles know that criminals hide behind claims of affection when the hammer comes down, and so we’re highly reluctant.
I haven’t written about the Penn State scandal yet because all the lessons seem so obvious: don’t rape kids. If you see a kid being raped, stop it and call the police. You don’t need me to tell you that.
But I will point out, the country is fascinated with this mess because it’s a chance for us to contemplate evil from a safe distance, to imagine how much bolder our own responses would be had we been Mike McQueary, that assistant coach who supposedly caught Sandusky sodomizing a child, or Joe Paterno, the powerful head of Penn State football who heard the allegations, passed them up the ladder where they were ignored and went about his business.
I’d like to point out that it’s too easy to indulge in long distance revenge fantasies. Jerry Sandusky isn’t the only child molester, and child abuse isn’t the only evil in the world. Paterno et al may have allowed this to slide because they were focused on their football program — football not being a realm where protection of the weak is a strong value. The true lesson here is less satisfying. If we are really outraged, we should ask ourselves: what evils are we tolerating? What wrongs are we rationalizing or glibly overlooking? Because a sizeable group of intelligent, educated, accomplished men — coaches, college administrators — allowed the worst crimes to be ignored for years. What are you turning a blind eye to? Nothing? Are you sure? Because people deceive themselves.
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