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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Joe Paterno and Doublethink

Lenin addressing crowd at Red Square.  In the top
photo Trotsky has been masterfully edited out. (This
was before PhotoShop.)  You can see him in the bottom photo
standing on right side of podium.
Be it said, I have no knowledge or interest in sports whatsoever.  Before the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke, I couldn't have told you who Joe Paterno was anymore than I could tell you who won the last Superbowl.  Nevertheless, it was with anger I heard that the NCAA stripped Paterno of his 111 victories, so that he is no longer the winningest coach in Division I Football.  Penn State also removed his statue; with this I have no quarrel, a sad but appropriate and necessary measure regarding a man who has shamed his university.  But the victories.
The bottom line is, Paterno won those, and it doesn't matter what the NCAA has to say about it.  Trying to undo history is the very nature of Doublethink, defined by George Orwell in 1984 as telling "deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality."  Rewriting history is precisely what we want to do when we are morally offended - and we should be morally offended, to any extent Paterno covered up and abetted Sandusky in his abuse, we should all be offended, but the fact remains: those 111 victories are Paterno's, and however unpleasant it is to recognize that, the fact remains what the fact remains.
Not that this will stop NCAA from rewriting history, or sports historians from reiterating what NCAA passes on.  History isn't fact, but just one version of what we believe the facts to be.  We have the ability, when moral outrage or any other catalyst makes us want to badly enough, to make history veer as far from the facts as our fearful hearts desire.
That's scary.

1 comment:

  1. I have to admit, the "vacating" of the victories came as a surprise. Ordinarily, the NCAA only vacates (strange word to use...why not nullifies?) a victory if the winning team did something that gave them a competitive advantage...knowingly and intentionally using an ineligible player, for example.
    I believe it was done as a punitive measure. It was as if the NCAA decided: "There's no way we're going to let a coach who did this be our all-time leader in wins." You make a good point that trying to pretend it didn't happen is a kind of "doublethink."
    I was glad to see that the NCAA decided to allow all the PSU players to transfer and be eligible to play immediately. That's certainly a logical and fair thing to do, but that's not always the way the NCAA has worked. Quite often, a coach would get caught breaking the rules, get his school on probation, and then leave for a new job. But the players had to remain and endure the probation (and any other penalties) that their former coach had earned, and then transferred away from.