Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Meet Malcolm Gladwell: The Smartest Guy in the Room (Really)

From the messy desk of Paul Levine...

Malcolm Gladwell, a/k/a the smartest guy in the room, has a new book out.  "David and Goliath" is subtitled "Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants."  In the words of the publisher:

"Malcolm Gladwell challenges how we think about obstacles and disadvantages, offering a new interpretation of what it means to be discriminated against, or cope with a disability, or lose a parent, or attend a mediocre school, or suffer from any number of other apparent setbacks."

But this blog post isn't about his new book or his bestsellers "Outliers" "The Tipping Point" and "Blink."

It's about sports.

Particularly the hypocritical NCAA and yes, it's treatment of Penn State.

Because Gladwell has opinions about that, too.  Previously he wrote a column in The New Yorker entitled "In Plain View: How Child Molesters Get Away With It."  He discussed the incredible skill of Jerry Sandusky and other child molesters and how they hide their evil.

Now, in a different vein, Gladwell is asked by sportswriter Bill Simmons on the Grantland blog whether he would approve of a national "sports czar" to straighten out American sports.

First, Simmons says:

"That's a real job, Malcolm. Think how important sports is to American culture, think how far it spreads, think how much money's at stake, and think how much time it consumes.  Why wouldn't this be its own job? Do you realize how many special czars (or czar-like positions) have been appointed by American presidents over the years? We've had eight AIDS czars, a foreign aid czar, an auto recovery czar, two bank bailout czars, a bird flu czar, a birth control czar (a birth control czar!!!!), two climate czars, a copyright czar, four cyber security czars, nine drug czars, five energy czars, five faith-based czars (WTF???), a food safety czar, a homelessness czar."

The answered surprised me.  It's all about the NCAA and Penn State and Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno.

"It has to happen! Let me give you another argument for the czar, which is that he could finally put the NCAA in its place. I'm actually still angry about the way the NCAA treated Penn State after the Jerry Sandusky scandal. (And by the way, please call it the Jerry Sandusky scandal, not the Joe Paterno scandal. The person who molested young boys was Jerry Sandusky.)

"Now, I've written, in The New Yorker, about how we falsely assume that catching child molesters is really straightforward, and that anyone who has a child molester in their midst must be guilty of some kind of cover-up. That's nonsense. The skilled ones, and Jerry Sandusky was very skilled, are consummate con men. So I tend to be a good deal more forgiving of Paterno than most.

"There's a reason why clinical psychologists receive extensive training, and that's because spotting predatory behavior requires extensive training. (If you doubt this, just spend an afternoon in the library reading the psychological literature on child molesters. It will chill you to the bone. Many go for years without being caught, because child molesters are really good at concealing their crimes.)

"But let's leave that question aside for a moment and just consider the technical question here.  A former employee of Penn State University is suspected of molesting children. He is arrested and charged by the authorities. The university has a set of internal procedures designed to deal with those kinds of criminal activities, and to apportion responsibility for those school officials who acted negligently. The legal system in the state of Pennsylvania also has a set of laws and procedures, in both the civil and criminal arenas, to deal with crimes of this nature. Both acted. That's the way the system is supposed to work.

"So what does the NCAA do? It jumps in and levies a series of harsh sanctions against the Penn State football program. Can someone tell me where the NCAA found the authority to do that? The NCAA, in its simplest form, is a cartel designed to exploit amateur arbitrage: That is, to profit on the spread between the cost of minimal-wage athletic labor and the value of television sports contracts. Or something like that. Reasonable minds can differ. What they are not is a body with any standing to weigh in on criminal matters concerning university employees that have already been dealt with by the appropriate authorities — merely because the employee in question happens to have once been connected to a sports program.

"This is crazy! If a bank discovers that one of its tellers is molesting children, the FDIC doesn't suspend the bank's charter and punish every other employee and customer of the bank! Now, I'm not the only one to think this. I've spoken to lots of legal experts who said exactly the same thing. So why does the NCAA get away with this kind of aggressive over-reaching? Because for some reason, when it comes to many of the bigger questions raised by sports, we all shut down our brains. Bring on the czar!"

On a personal note, I knew Joe Paterno for 40 years and respected him as a figure of unblemished integrity and towering accomplishment.  I knew Jerry Sandusky for 25 years and never suspected him of anything.  Less than a week ago, I asked a former Penn State player, an All American in the 1980's who went on to have a 10 year NFL career, what he thought of Sandusky, who had been his defensive coordinator.  He told me he'd cried when he heard the news, that he knew the man as a coaching genius fully committed to his work on the one hand and helping underprivileged children on the other.  (See Gladwell's New Yorker piece for just how these criminals fool everyone).

As for a sports czar...well, I'm skeptical.  But as for the NCAA, I wouldn't mind seeing it disbanded.

Paul Levine


  1. The question is when Paterno became aware of the situation, did he do enough?

  2. When Joe became aware, Jerry had been retired two years. Joe followed protocol and had the witness tell appropriate university personnel what he had witnessed.

  3. The emails released in the Freeh report really tell us so much, including that Freeh was a paid character assassin.

    1) They tell us that Joe was not involved in the university's decision. To the plan proposed by AD Curley, Spanier said, "That is acceptable to me...." He was the president of the university. Curley and Schultz deferred to him.

    2) The three administrators did not believe that any sexual abuse had occurred. The theme of the emails is clear. Prevention. Jerry's behavior was inappropriate and could leave PSU. vulnerable. What is the best way to prevent a recurrence? Again, quoting Spanier, "...The only downside for us is if our message is not "heard" and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it....." In other words, there was only one thing Spanier was concerned about; a subsequent incident that might bring their handling of this incident under scrutiny.

    3) Nobody was worried that this boy or his family would go to the authorities. How can that be? Not only was Sandusky a former employee with emeritus status, but the witness was a current member of the staff who chose to leave the boy in the shower with Jerry and call his father instead of the police? The most plausible explanation is that this was not a situation involving sexual abuse, but boundary issues.

    Here is the statement given to Sandusky's attorney by the man claiming to be the boy in the shower. If you haven't seen this, it will blow you away!


  4. Thank you, Howard Young. I thought I had followed the case closely. However, I never saw the statement in which "Victim 2," the McQueary situation, and hence the crux of the criminal cases against the administrators, denied sexual contact with Sandusky. I do recall that there was a N.G. verdict on that count.

  5. Paul, it gets even more bizarre! This man was to be the defense's star witness. However, his mother happened to work for an attorney representing other Sandusky victims. He subsequently changed his story and lawyered up, though he still never claimed any sexual abuse that night and he never testified for either side.

    So, of the three cases that occurred in the PSU facilities:

    1) The '98 case was fully investigated by police and child services. The DA chose not to press charges.

    2) In the so called janitor case, which has never had a known victim, and in which hearsay testimony was allowed as the original witness was unable to testify, Ray Blehar discovered through employment records that the original witness was not employed by PSU at the time this incident supposedly occurred.

    3) In the 2001 shower incident that McQueary witnessed, the police interviewed the alleged victim 2 months before the GJ presentment was released, who told them nothing improper happened.

    My opinion of what happened in 2001 is that McQueary never actually saw abuse, but was legitimately concerned by the inappropriateness of the situation. The higher ups at PSU recognized the university's vulnerability should a subsequent incident like this and the one '98 occur and took steps to address that possibility by rescinding Sandusky's "guest" privileges and informing The Second Mile. Since they didn't believe there was a victim or that Jerry was capable of that sort of thing and were convinced that Jerry had heard their message, they thought they handled things the right way.

    However, the commonwealth was struggling to build its case. Having a credible, third party witness testify against Sandusky was huge. So the prosecution took McQueary, convinced him that Sandusky was a monster (I'm not saying he isn't.) and that what he saw, whether definitively sexual or not, was at the very least a form of grooming behavior.