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.