On the John
Completed on January 9, 2006
In the latest social Con-tro-ver-seeeeee in the world of sports, the president of the National Organization for Women in Pennsylvania has asked Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno to resign. Joanne Tosti-Vasey sent e-mails to Paterno and Penn State University’s president asking for the coach’s resignation due to his comments regarding a Florida State player being accused of sexual assault. When asked about FSU’s A.J. Nicholson, Paterno responded in a less than politically correct manner. “He might not have known what he was getting into, Nicholson,” Paterno said. “They knock on the door; somebody may knock on the door; a cute girl may knock on the door. What do you do?”
I’m assuming that this is the part of the interview to which Tosti-Vasey took exception; she responded with a written statement. “Allegations of sexual assault should never be taken lightly,” the statement reads. “Making light of sexual assault sends the message that rape is something to be expected and accepted.”
Tosti-Vasey went on to say that Paterno’s comments “represent an institutional insensitivity that endangers women.”
Although football coaches are judged differently than your average professor—particularly a coach whose name is synonymous with his university like Paterno’s is—it’s a bit of a stretch to extrapolate an entire university’s social policies from one interview. Still, I agree entirely with Tosti-Vasey’s overall concern: sexual assault and rape should never be taken lightly, nor should it, in ANY circumstance, be something that can be “expected” or “accepted.”
But does Paterno really need to be fired? Is that necessary? Is that justified?
There are two obvious observations to be made here, and so I will make them quickly.
1. Paterno’s comments may have been made “out of context,” but what does that mean, really? I’ve always loved the phrase “out of context.” It’s such a goofy phrase; people always use it in situations like this, the catch being that they define the word “context” as any words spoken by that person on that day, just as “extenuating circumstances” usually refer to any circumstances at all.
2. That said, the “context” that is important here is Paterno’s intentions. This isn’t Gary Barnett answering questions about Colorado kicker Katie Hnida being raped by a teammate by saying that “Katie was not only a girl, she was terrible, OK?” Even if Paterno was meaning to forgive Nicholson for his indiscretion, I doubt that he was making a complete excuse for it. What do I base this on? Nothing. Or at least, nothing concrete. I can only base it on what Paterno seems like on TV and in interviews, which is a nice, caring guy.
Now that I’ve drawn those two obvious conclusions, let me say that this: Joe Paterno is old. That’s really what this situation is about. It’s not about tact, or care, or moral and ethical standards set by large institutions. It’s just about age.
I’ve known a lot of old people in my life. My grandmother, for example. She’s old. I love her to death, but she’s old. There’s no getting around it. And the thing about old people is that they just don’t get it. They are good for a lot of things, but when it comes to political correctness, it’s just not happening. Old people missed the whole political correctness movement, which stems from them having missed the whole Civil Rights Movement, which stems from them having been so exhausted after the Great Depression, two World Wars, and giving birth to one of the largest generations in American history that in around 1957 they all went upstairs to take naps, and when they woke up it was the year 2000 and everybody around them had become polite. Every so often a few of them would wake up, get confused by something on TV, and then go back to bed, and it would be up to us—the younger people—to explain it to them in terms that they could understand. “Ooooohhhhhh, they were marching for their rights. I just figured it was the latest exercise craze.”
Old people just don’t get it, and all we can do is love them and visit them and rain hugs and kisses upon them and cash their birthday checks and answer all of their tedious questions about proper winter insulation and the cracks in the sidewalk. And yes, occasionally they will say things that are unreasonably offensive, and we just have to do our best to prevent people from outside the family from hearing them. And one day they’ll all go up to the big lounge chair in the sky, and fall asleep in front of the television for good. And we’ll miss them terribly, and their money, and laugh about the time when grandma complimented the “beautiful eyes” of Chinese people by pulling on the sides of her eyes with her two index fingers for the rest of us to see…right in the middle of a Chinese restaurant.
Joanne Tosti-Vasey needs to relax. There’s no need to get so bent out of shape over what Joe Paterno says. After all, old people say the damndest things.
Copyright 2006, jm silverstein