PRIORITIES

So far I've avoided the Penn State child molestation story and the new, less widely reported allegations that a Syracuse University basketball coach Bernie Fine (who was fired on Monday) molested young boys as well. In the latter case, ESPN had a legally recorded tape of a phone conversation between a victim and the coach's wife in which they indicate mutual knowledge of the various acts of molestation that occurred. In a disturbing similarity to the Penn State case, ESPN received the tape in 2003 (!!!!) and reported it only this past weekend because they thought that the victim had already called the police and couldn't "verify the authenticity" of the tape. Seems like that might have been worth taking to the authorities anyway, guys. But let's not digress.

One particular part of the conversation between wife and victim is noteworthy in ESPN's partial transcript:

On the call, Laurie Fine told Davis (the victim) she'd already warned her husband that one day his alleged molestation of Davis might become public.

"I said to him, 'Bobby and I talked, and I know some things about you that if you keep pushing are going to be let out.' "

Davis continued: "He doesn't think he can be touched … "

Laurie Fine: "No … he thinks he's above the law."

The idea of being untouchable is prominent throughout the events at Penn State as well – that being a coach at a big time college sports program provides lofty social status. Honestly, that is a sadder commentary on our society, and higher education in particular, than even the acts these men committed. None of us are naive enough to deny that people in positions of power are treated differently. Things they do that might get them in trouble can sometimes be swept under rugs because other powerful people will help them. This is part of the way the world works. Life isn't fair, etc.

What's pathetic is that assistant coaches at college sports programs fall into this category of social elites who wield special powers. It makes sense, for example, that the governor or a judge or a billionaire are likely to get Special Treatment from the law. They have actual power. Bernie Fine or Jerry Sandusky, conversely, are college assistant coaches. College sports could cease to exist tomorrow and the collective impact on society would be nil, other than adding more people to the unemployment rolls. What these men do is not important. At all. It might be fun. It might be entertaining. It might boost school spirit or whatever excuses athletic departments use to justify their existence. Sure. But college football and basketball are not important.

It's sad that we place such a disproportionate emphasis on sports and athletes in our society that these men can get out of a speeding ticket let alone avoid prosecution for felonies. The appropriate response to a statement such as "Well I'm a coach for Penn State!" would ideally be "Who gives a shit?" Instead, such people are treated with deference once reserved for heads of state and robber barons. Because, like, the Nittany Lions! Joe Paterno! OMG!

Oh, by the way: don't get all high and mighty on us, non-Americans. We've seen how you treat your soccer players.

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63 Responses to “PRIORITIES”

  1. Ken Says:

    Nick, could you clarify one thing. When you say that the town thrives on local athletics, and the economy would crater if it went away – surely you don't literally mean the entire town's only industry is the football game?

  2. Major Kong Says:

    @nick

    Just think for a moment about how (little) you care about, oh let's say cricket in the UK.

    Believe it or not, there are those of us that care equally little about major league baseball or college football. It's just not on my radar screen most of the time.

  3. Brandon Says:

    Major Kong: I don't think Nick was saying that you HAVE to care about sports to be a full member of the human species, he was simply responding to the argument that sports is a complete waste of time and that communities that rally around their local teams are indulging in some form of false consciousness and wasting their time. I don't see the relevance of your cricket reference. I'm guessing nick's response would be that, no, I personally don't care for cricket, but good for those people who do like it and support their team.

    I get the critiques, and I would probably take a middle position between nick and his critics. I grew up in a small Midwestern town where high school sports probably took on way more significance than was merited, and I went to a large Big Ten university. So yeah, sports has an outsized role in our society. Then again, when the townspeople gathered to watch the football team on Friday nights, it's not as if the only activity they engaged in was watching the game. They chatted with neighbors, asked about their problems, their kids, discussed local issues, etc. There was some definite social capital being built.

    Would it be nice if Shakespeare festivals assumed the role of weekly football matches in bringing people together? Sure. But your broad critique of sports and those who enjoy it is a critique of the human species. The fact that societies throughout human history have engaged in some version of "throwing a fucking ball," as you put it, must indicate that such activities are of some value to a great many people.

  4. Talisker Says:

    I took an interest in sports later in life, having spent my early years as the stereotypical anti-sports nerd… but I think those saying sports have no value are dead wrong. I say they are a legitimate art form.

    Seeing an athlete accomplish something at the limits of human performance has an intrinsic value. Man runs 100m in a straight line? Boring. Usain Bolt breaks the world record? Impressive. And a guy on a motorbike could beat him easily, but that doesn't detract from Bolt's talent and dedication.

    Will a sports event endure for the ages? Maybe not, but that's not the point. It's a live performance. If I go see a band live, it won't be as note-perfect as the album versions, and it probably won't be preserved forever as an example of their greatest work, but so what?

    Sports have teamwork, tactics, and psychology in a competitive contest. Will one team's morale break? If they screw up royally in the first half, can they come back in the second to win? This can have all the narrative drama of a good film or novel, all the more so because it's live and you *can't skip to the end*.

    I know it's purely arbitrary that person X decides to support team Y, at best it's an accident of where you were born or went to school. Any sports fan who doesn't grasp this is frankly delusional, but it's still fun to support a team. Yeah, sometimes emotions get out of hand and the fans riot, but that's the exception. In my experience, fans of opposing teams in the same workplace/family can get along just fine, with a bit of mild teasing after the game.

    You can argue about whether sports constitute "high art", or whether they're more or less valuable than other art forms, but this seems pointless to me — it's like complaining because a novel doesn't have illustrations or a painting doesn't have a soundtrack. If watching sports events doesn't appeal to you then that's fine, but recognise that it's a difference of personal taste, not substance.

  5. nick Says:

    Thank you, @Brandon, @Talisker You guys get it. And Cricket fucking rules by the way.

  6. Aaron Schroeder Says:

    I'm sort of surprised that anyone posing as the defender of the intellectual-educated-blue-state-ism or whatever, like Sarah and John Mickevich, would claim that games like football and baseball are anti-intellectual. Of course, it's less surprising when the examples John cites of those who'd watch athletics are the worst ones. Talk about ad hominem and straw-manning. Go read Michael Lewis's "Moneyball," or talk to the Harvard statisticians working for the Red Sox, and then try to defend your claim that sports are somehow anti-intellectual.

    One can do the same thing with supposedly high-art, as well. I attended a performance of "A Masqued Ball" at Chicago's Lyric Opera last year, and while waiting for her coat, the most that this elegantly-dressed, well-spoken woman could summon about the performance before complaining about the length of the cab line was, "Well, the main character – what was his name? – I suppose he died well, didn't he?" For all her wealth and sophistication: what a fool she was. And how pointless is the love of opera, and pretentious are those who'd pursue it. Right?

    There's a great line in the West Wing that describes the phenomenon John, and others here, have exemplified. Ainsley Hayes: "While [all that about guns] may be true, your gun control position doesn't have anything to do with public safety, and it's certainly not about personal freedom. It's about, you don't like people who do like guns. You don't like the people. Think about that the next time you make a joke about the South."

  7. Aaron Schroeder Says:

    I'm sort of surprised that anyone posing as the defender of the intellectual-educated-blue-state-ism or whatever, like Sarah and John Mickevich, would claim that games like football and baseball are anti-intellectual. Of course, it's less surprising when the examples John cites of those who'd watch athletics are the worst ones. Talk about ad hominem and straw-manning. Go read Michael Lewis's "Moneyball," or talk to the Harvard statisticians working for the Red Sox, and then try to defend your claim that sports are somehow anti-intellectual.

    You do the same thing to supposedly high-art, as well. I attended a performance of "A Masqued Ball" at Chicago's Lyric Opera last year, and while waiting for her coat, the most that this elegantly-dressed, well-spoken woman could summon about the performance before complaining about the length of the cab line was, "Well, the main character – what was his name? – I suppose he died well, didn't he?" For all her wealth and sophistication: what a fool she was. And how pointless is the love of opera, and pretentious are those who'd pursue it. Right?

    There's a great line in the West Wing that describes the phenomenon John, and others here, have exemplified. Ainsley Hayes: "While [all that about guns] may be true, your gun control position doesn't have anything to do with public safety, and it's certainly not about personal freedom. It's about, you don't like people who do like guns. You don't like the people. Think about that the next time you make a joke about the South."

  8. Aaron Schroeder Says:

    Ugh, sorry for the duplication.

  9. Brandon Says:

    Aaron, that was such a bravo post, I was happy to read it twice :-)