Penn State, Joe Paterno, and…the Profit Motive? Or, The Dumbest Theory Yet of Why Child-Molesting at a Non-Profit Institution Went Unreported For So Long.


Fierce piece by Charles Pierce at Grantland about the Penn State child-molesting scandal. In part it reads:

If [the scandal and years-long fallout] blights Joe Paterno's declining years, that's too bad. If that takes a chunk out of the endowment, hold a damn bake sale. If that means that Penn State spends some time being known as the university where a child got raped, that's what happens when you're a university where a child got raped. Any sympathy for this institution went down the drain in the shower room in the Lasch Building. There's nothing that can happen to the university, or to the people sunk up to their eyeballs in this incredible moral quagmire, that's worse than what happened to the children who got raped at Penn State. Good Lord, people, get up off your knees and get over yourselves.

The idea that anyone—from Joe Paterno, who told a grand jury that his assistant had witnessed "something of a sexual nature" between one of his coaches and a child to his jock-sniffing apologists to the idiot students who rioted because a football season was disrupted—thinks something is more important than the crimes committed and covered up a chain of university administrators and coaches is repulsive beyond belief.

But Pierce is wrong about at least one thing, and it's not a small thing. He wags a shakey finger at the profit motive of all things, and the need to keep one's job in a tough economy as a motive force here:

If [eyewitness to the abuse and Paterno assistant] Mike McQueary had seen a child being raped in a boardroom or a storeroom, he wouldn't have been any more likely to have stopped it, or to have called the cops, than he was as a graduate assistant football coach at Penn State. With unemployment edging toward double digits, and only about 10 percent of the workforce unionized, every American who works for a major company knows the penalty for exercising his personal freedom, or his personal morality, at the expense of "the company." Independent thought is discouraged. Independent action is usually crushed. Nobody wants to damage the brand. Your supervisor might find out, and his primary loyalty is to the company. Which is why he got promoted to be your supervisor in the first place.

Whole thing here. (Hat Tip: Clara Jeffery's Twitter Feed.)

To put it bluntly, this borders on retarded. McQueary is a coward, for sure, but not because his paycheck was on the line. As with the Catholic Church, Penn State (and especially the corner of it that was Paterno's personal fiefdom) exerts far more loyalty and omerta precisely because it is not your typical for-profit company. Penn State football wields far more cultural power over its participants and admirers than does Wal-Mart, IBM, or Apple. A job is just a job, but the organizations that have demonstrably worked to shield and indemnify (or at least try to do so) creeps who committed systematic child rape simply don't exist in the real private sector. Even another Pennsylvania monster, Judge Mark Ciavarella, worked the legal system to his advantage, by using his power on the bench to wrongly send kids to detention centers for kickbacks.

Say what you will about the private sector, but unlike the Catholic Church, or Penn State, both of which have heavily insulated revenue streams, companies know that even the whiff of child-molesting scandals are not simply bad for business but catastrophic all the way around (not least for the kids who are the victims). Unlike the fantasy worlds surrounding many priests and coaches like JoePa, most companies would never allow such a thing to take place in the first place. For god's sake, it's inconceivable that such a story would unfold in any sort of situation other than a religious group or a school (and as long as it's open for discussion, does anyone think that this sort of behavior would have escaped notice if it was located in an academic department of Penn State?).