Emerson’s “Dangers” Proven #PennState

(Joe Paterno - Wikipedia)

I am surprised no one has written yet about the Penn State situation, but this HAS to be the most heated and heartbreaking topic right now in our country.  In case you live in a cave, Penn State’s old defensive coach (Jerry Sandusky) has been accused of numerous acts of sexual conduct with young boys.  Although this alone is disgusting and absurd, the riots that occurred are because the long time, 409 winning games coach, Joe Paterno, failed to report the issue back in 2002.  A grad student back had walked in on a horrific (understatement) sexual action going on between Sandusky and a 10 year-old-boy.  The grad student reported the incident to Joe Pa the next day.  At that point, Joe Pa did go to the AD (Athletic Department), although he did NOT go to the police.  The AD failed to report the issue as well; therefore it was swept under the rug at that time.

Yes, you may be thinking, “Well, if he didn’t see it himself, how would he ever prove it to the police?”.  Well gosh darnit, could you live with yourself knowing this conduct with Sandusky could even be the slightest bit true?  In my personal view, although I am prepared to receive posts firing back, he hands-down should have gone to the police.  And what do you know?  These sexual conducts continued, despite the fact that the Penn State Athletic Dept knew about the issue.  There is almost 20 reports of sexual conduct now, and I wouldn’t be surprised if more came out… his charity was for at-risk youths.  To wrap it up, Joe Pa did what he was required to do, but not what he was morally required to do.

I promise there is a point to me spilling my thoughts out on the situation at hand.  Emerson’s theory of self-reliance would tear our society apart if we were to follow the life he believed we all should have.  Ralph Waldo Emerson believes that we need to look to the individual rather than a conventional society.  He says people need to “go into his closet and shut the door” and block out society.  Emerson thinks this will force a person to look into their soul, “find God” and do what is morally correct.  But in this case with Penn State, numerous people did not follow society’s laws and ended up acting immoral.  First, there is the obvious character, Jerry Sandusky, who performed the heinous crimes. Then, there is Joe Paterno, who may have reported it to the AD, but did not call the police.  And let’s not forget about the AD themselves; they did not get the police involved as well.  Since there are laws in place, this incident is not going unpunished as can be seen from the firing of Joe Pa.  But, if we lived in Emerson’s world and someone did not act morally correct, would they be punished?

We talked about the dangers in class today, but we did not cover what are the consequences if someone makes the wrong decision.  I believe everybody was in the wrong in this situation and cannot see how Emerson’s world would ever work because there will always be crazy people.  We need the good men and women of the society to keep others in check.  As has been said, “Evil prevails when good men do nothing”.


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9 Responses to Emerson’s “Dangers” Proven #PennState

  1. jason5brown says:

    First and foremost I do agree that Paterno should have taken whatever information he had to the police as soon as he knew it in 2002. Besides being a hall-of-fame football coach, he is in many ways the face of Penn State University. He had a moral obligation to act on behalf of himself, his football team, the victims of these crimes and their families, and the university community that adores him. However, I disagree that following Emerson’s philosophy would lead to the same result where these actions would go unreported.

    I believe that Joe Paterno, and the others who were aware of the situation at hand back in 2002 (Athletic Director Tim Curley, Senior VP of Finance Gary Schultz, and President Graham Spanier) are at fault, and they did exactly what Emerson warns against. In the past year we’ve seen the power of how a scandal can cause extreme damage to an academic institution. Take Ohio State for example. The legacy of Jim Tressel is disgraced, the athletic department will receive harsh penalties from the NCAA, and most importantly the character and reputation of the University was greatly tarnished.

    It was EASIER for Spanier and his administrative board to do nothing, to say nothing, and not raise the questions that needed to be asked. The action, rather inaction, that these individuals took, they did to protect their program at the expense of countless victims. I believe that Emerson doesn’t want individuals to physically withdraw from society, but metaphorically, in a sense that they should take the action they believe is correct, whether it be praised or ignored. They wrongly believed that they could protect their program and do nothing, staying within societies laws. They were unable to step back and look at this from a rational and moral perspective. They failed Emerson when he says, “to believe that what is true in your private heart is true for all men — that is genius.” There is no way they privately believed that not reporting these allegations was the moral and proper way to react to this situation.

    One of Emerson’s main points in Self-Reliance is not to remain consistent with ideas and views expressed in the past. Sandusky worked under Joe Paterno for 31 years as his defensive coordinator and the two were clearly close. Paterno worked with him, saw him in social settings, and knew Sandusky’s involvement with a charity for at-risk youths. These dispositions must have made it difficult to think that someone so close to him could perform such heinous actions. If Paterno had acted in a more Emersonian manner, he would have not taken these things into account, and acted solely on the allegations he was told by his wide receivers coach. Emerson’s quote, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” accurately portrays Pateno’s mistake.

    For me, the saddest part is that some of these crimes could have been prevented if those who were aware of the situation in 2002 looked beyond their own jobs and the reputation of the University, and realized the pain and suffering of these young boys and their families. While the scandal will continue to unfold and get uglier, lets not lose sight of the real victims, the children and their families. There is nothing more important than maintaining the safety and respect of all citizens, but especially children and students. It is crucial and imperative that we take this incident and realize it is important to what is just, even if it may be at the expense of your own reputation, or that of the institution you are associated with.

  2. arlaurin says:

    You make some really valid points! I guess I was more just concerned with if Emerson ever acknowledges what would happen if a person did do something morally wrong after supposedly looking inside their soul. Would their be consequences?

  3. miswain says:

    While the thought of the Penn State administrators being Emersonian characters, and thus, so hands-off that they completly ignore what came to be the sickest story in sports history is certainly interesting, I agree with Jason in the sense that Emersonianism doesn’t necessarily equal libertarianism. Fortunately, I don’t think that the world is so messed up that we allow ignorance on such a life-changing issue to be conventional morality. Maybe certain college administrators do, but the rest of us will have none of it.

    If he-who-shall-not-be-named, and thus, the administrators at PSU had committed a lesser wrong, (something that didn’t appeal to so many peoples’ emotions) while within the comfort of an Emersonian society,public apathy may have well led to the lawlessness/lack of organization/anarchy that we spoke of in class. A lack of organized law enforcement certainly wouldn’t have helped.

  4. davidkoz says:

    Before delving into Emerson, I’d like to say that I agree with Jason’s moral stance on the scandal surrounding Penn State. To add, I hope that it is strictly coincidence that this tragedy involving Jerry Sandusky came to light just days after Joe Paterno passed Eddie Robinson as the all-time winningest coach in Division I history.

    As I think about JoePa’s negligence in the context of Emerson, I am constantly reminded of this particular quote: “…do not tell me, as a good man did to-day, of my obligation to put all poor men in good situations. Are they my poor?” (22). (The poor men in this instance would be the victims and their families.) In a general context, Emerson would agree with someone’s decision to go against the grain, to be a non-conformist, as evidenced by this quote but he also mentions the importance of hearing the voice of God and acting on His word. In the context of JoePa’s negligence, and all ethical dilemmas for that matter, Emerson’s beliefs would be in conflict. The word of God or rather the word of the people would have told Paterno to notify the police of Sandusky’s relationship with young boys but Paterno would then be submitting to conformity. I certainly hope that Emerson, if he were still around, would okay conformity in such an instance.

    As for the decision of those in the Athletic Department to not file a police report, one could say, in the context of Emerson, that they feared societal disapproval since they would have had to self-impose sanctions to the detriment of the Penn State football program and its fans.

  5. Amanda Gayer says:

    I couldn’t agree more with your stance on Emerson. I think it is certainly important to understand one’s own values and beliefs, and to act accordingly. However, it is truly dangerous and irresponsible to encourage people to go about doing whatever they like and ignoring societal norms. This is because if one pursues one’s own interests with no regard for society, others can be harmed and have their own freedoms impeded in the process. In this case, Sandusky’s actions may have seemed okay to him, but there is a reason our society made his actions illegal – such behavior likely scarred these children for life, and is totally unacceptable. Emerson’s ideas about morality are valuable to some extent because the encourage independent thinking and knowing oneself. Unfortunately however, as we can see from this situation, they can easily be taken way too far.

  6. bkemeter says:

    This topic really does allow for the ideas of Emerson to applied to the real world. Besides what everyone know is wrong are the moral questions that have been brought up in the firing of Joe Paterno and other staff members at Penn State.

    First off, I agree with Jason’s stance. Based on the rule of law that exists in society, outside of Sandusky, there was not much done wrong by the coaches and administration. However, if they would have looked inside themselves and done what morally is right this situation would be very different. These leaders were looking out for Penn State, athletics, and money. I think Emerson would say they were following society, especially in the world of college athletics where there is a “everyone has something going on and we need to win” attitude.

    Amanda also brings up a good point. There are dangers for people who do not think like most other people. Sandusky, like many people who commit crimes don’t see it as wrong. Diverging from social norms can go wrong. I think this can show some dangers in Emerson’s theories.

  7. aazilli7 says:

    I understand what you’re saying about the importance of societal laws and the use of Emerson’s reasoning in the whole Penn State scandal. If Joe Pa did, as you say, look inside of himself instead of to society when he did not completely react (“But in this case with Penn State, numerous people did not follow society’s laws and ended up acting immoral.”), then you’re completely right about how Emersonian logic fails in instances like these.

    Though, I think it is important that this could be looked at as an instance where Emerson’s word was not followed. What if it was that Joe Pa failed to look inside of himself and recognize the true gravity of the situation (which would have subsequently caused him to act to the fullest degree on the crime), and instead allowed himself to be influenced by his administration, his school and all of the people who would have been disappointed had his football team been crippled by the loss one of its most famous and successful coaches (which Jerry Sandusky was)? Perhaps it was the heavy expectations of the outside that wished for no trouble to disrupt the football program that lead him to not go to the police. Either way, it is clear that he made a grave mistake. I just think that Emerson’s advice may not have been heeded here as opposed to being taken too seriously in the perpetuation of this tragedy.

  8. chrisjay44 says:

    I would agree that the things that took place at Penn State were disgusting and should never take place. But I would disagree that firing Joe Pa was a good idea or that he was in the wrong. When notified of what took place he informed his AD as he should. In my eyes he did his duty. In my opinion it was the job of the grad student to go to the police.

  9. Although the acts that Sandusky is accused of doing is unforgivable, I can’t help but notice how the public has already deemed him vehemently guilty before his trial even begins. Let’s not forget people are suppose to be innocent until proven guilty in the court of law. This would not be the first time that the public deemed someone guilty before they were eventually proven innocent.

    Also, I believe it was unfair for Joe Paterno to be fired for a couple reasons. First, it has been reported that he did not know that Sandusky was actually sexually assaulting the boy in the shower. Instead, he understood from the graduate student coach who saw the act that he was fighting with the boy. Secondly, it is not fair for Paterno to be fired for not telling the police about what he heard when the graduate student who saw the act still has his job as the quarterbacks’ coach at PSU. I understand that there is a “whistle blower” law that prevents PSU from firing the first person that reports the crime, but it is still not fair to me.

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