Tuesday, Bobby Bowden, the longtime, long-distance rival to Penn State’s Joe Paterno, weighed on in an Orlando radio show about the Penn State child-sexual-abuse scandal. It was Bowden whose Florida State team waged, for years, a battle with Paterno’s Penn State for the most victories in Division 1 football (Paterno won).
“I’ve tried to think what I would do if one of my coaches had come to me and told me what happened,” said Bowden, whom Florida State forced into retirement. “I would have gone to that guy (Jerry Sandusky), asked him if it was true and I would have told him to get away from here and don’t EVER come back. And then I would have gone to the police. I think that’s what I would have done.”
Anybody else tired of some people appropriating the moral high ground in this case, specifically in the area of how they would have reacted if they had seen a youngster being violated in a shower, as PSU assistant Mike McQueary allegedly did when he unexpectedly walked in on Jerry Sandusky?
All along, I believe I’ve understood McQueary’s reaction. Yes, he was a 28-year-old man. And he was also working in a place of titanic tradition, with the iconic Paterno in charge and others in place there for decades. And he happened upon something completely shocking, an event that would rattle one to the core. That doesn’t make his reaction right, it just makes it more understandable, especially when he had to make a split-second decision.
Everybody from Bowden to radio voice Mike Golic has let the world know what they would have done. Great. In this gotta-shout-my-opinion-out-there-pronto world, it’s more important to be heard than to offer a calm, reasoned take, one that reflects this reality:
How does anybody know what the hell they would have done?
In less than two months, we’ve been battered by the shocking news at Penn State, the subsequent investigation into Syracuse basketball assistant Bernie Fine, and now former Philadelphia sportswriter Bill Conlin, accused by six people of sexual abuse when they were children decades ago.
We can agree that the alleged acts were repulsive and for the victims, shattering. For me, what’s most fascinating is the behavior of those adults who knew but didn’t react and the moral choices they made. Somehow, the mores of the time or the convenience of silence led them to keep quiet. Put in those precise situations, we’d love to think we’d make the right call.
Do we know that?
Without that certainty, there’s only one phrase that fits the reaction of those who believe we can’t do without their moralizing: Talk is cheap.